Paging Dr. Quader
Barbara Bush just underwent surgery for a narrowed aortic valve. Her husband, our former president, expressed some shock over learning that the new valve she received came from a pig.
In order to better educate my audience and me I thought I’d consult an expert on the matter. I don’t know many pig farmers, but I know a great cardiothoracic surgeon. I sent some questions to the venerable Dr. Mohammed Quader and he was kind enough to respond.
How common is the use of a pig valve?
The most common biological valve used is the pig valve. Next common is bovine (cow), cadaver and equine (horse) in that order.
How long have animal valves been used in heart surgery?
Over thirty years.
Have they tried using valves from other animals such as apes, horses, etc?
Besides pig, cow, horse and human valves all other biological valves come from tailored pericardium. No apes or other animal valves are used that I know of.
Does the patient have to worry about “rejection” of the valve because it isn’t human?
The valve tissue is processed with chemicals in such a way that the elements that elicit immune reaction are washed out. There are some case reports of early valve failure with signs of immune mediated rejection but they are far and few in between.
Will the patient begin to exhibit characteristics of the animal that donated the valve?
Some moo and others oink! And others continue to act like humans!
Finally, once someone has a pig valve in place are there any ethical qualms to eating pork products such as ham and bacon? This wouldn’t fall into the cannibalism category, would it?
Only ethical qualms raised were from religious groups that observe certain beliefs. Muslims do not eat pork or use pork products, leather jackets from pigs etc. They may prefer to go with a cow valve. On the other hand if that option is not available and the medical condition of a person necessitates valve replacement, any valve is acceptable. Similarly, Hindu religion considers cow a very sacred animal. They would have objection to having cow sacrificed to make a valve for them. They may prefer other options.
There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth (or heart, as the case may be).