New valve offers hope to heart condition sufferers

Damaris Kremidas

Weak hearts run in Catherine Stoven’s family. Her son died of heart complications a year ago, and she’s experienced shortness of breath and pain for years.
The heart valve transplant 75-year-old Stoven required used to be difficult for doctors to perform on women because women’s heart valves are normally smaller than men’s. But because of a new valve used for the first time in Minnesota by University doctors, Stoven is feeling better than she has in years.
“We’re very grateful for a second chance,” said Stoven, talking about her husband, Dean, and herself.
Stoven was one of three patients that needed new valves in Minnesota in December and who received the stentless porcine aortic valve.
This series of valve implants marked the first time that the valve has been used in Minnesota.
Stoven is now in cardiopulmonary therapy three days a week. She goes through a regimen of exercises to strengthen her heart and help it get used to the new valve.
R. Morton Bolman, professor of surgery and director of the Thoracic Transplant Program at the University, said that the new aortic valve is more like an evolution rather than a new direction in medicine.
For about 25 years, pigs’ aortic heart valves have been used in humans for transplants by mounting the valve to a metallic frame stent — a device used to ensure the integrity of the transplant — and attaching the aorta of the pig to that of the human.
With the new valve a metallic stent is not used. This helps in fitting the valve to different heart sizes. It especially accommodates women’s hearts because their valves are normally smaller than men’s.
Another advantage of the new valve is that blood thinner isn’t necessary, Bolman said.
However, the new procedure takes an hour and a half longer than the old valve transplant.
“This is a more complicated implant technique but it can be learned readily,” said Bolman.
The new valve is used in people 65 to 75 years old because the valve is only intended to last 10 to 15 years.
For Stoven, the new implant was not only a necessary lifesaver, but has reduced complications that other types of valves would have created.
“I think my outlook is better,” she said.