While operating on a 60-year-old woman, surgeons in Italy made a rare discovery: the world’s oldest artificial mitral valve, almost 50 years old and still working perfectly, that was originally implanted in Cape Town by Christiaan Barnard.
The surgeons at the San Giovanni di Dio e Ruggi d’Aragona hospital in Salerno made the discovery while conducting a routine checkup and a replacement of the valve. They consider it an important piece of medical history due to the valve having been implanted by Professor Barnard, who was a renowned South African heart transplant pioneer.
The 60-year-old woman received the valve when she was just 10 years old, five years after it was discovered that she had a serious mitral valve problem. Medical science and surgery was not what it is today and there was no hospital that could be relied on for her to receive the life-saving intervention she needed.
Her parents searched for a solution, and after five years of waiting the family travelled from Italy to South Africa, a place completely foreign to them, for the surgery that would save the little girl’s life. She was booked into Groote-Schuur centre in Cape Town, where the pioneering operation was performed by Professor Christiaan Barnard.
She remained at the centre for four months under the care of her brother as well as Barnard, who had performed the world’s first heart transplant just two years before.
The discovery of the woman’s long-functioning valve at Ruggi left the surgeons astounded at the extraordinary duration of the valve. No other valve in history has been recorded to last as long.
The anesthesiologist present, Dr. Francesco Frunzo, took to social media to share the experience that left him emotional and extending his personal respect for Barnard.