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First person to have a cow heart transplant wide awake says it’s ‘like Star Wars’

John Smallwood, 74, had two valves removed from the heart of a specially bred cow during a two-hour operation at Coventry University Hospital and was awake the whole time

John's heart failure made him too ill to survive general anesthesia and he stayed awake throughout the operation
John’s heart failure made him too ill to survive general anesthesia, so he stayed awake throughout the surgery

A retired paramedic has become the first awake patient to receive a double heart valve transplant.

John Smallwood, 74, had two valves removed from the heart of a specially bred cow during a two-hour operation at Coventry University Hospital.

Too ill to survive general anesthesia due to heart failure, he remained awake during the operation.

And he had to remain absolutely still, as the slightest movement could have caused a fatal error.

John said, “It was like something out of Star Wars. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this surgery.

“It’s a big step forward, like the first heart transplant. Hopefully it opens the door for others like me who are deemed too risky for open-heart surgery or general anesthesia.”

John had had open-heart surgery nine years earlier to repair a leaking mitral valve. It was initially a success that allowed him to return to work until his retirement a year later.






John at University Hospital Coventry before his operation





John Smallwood, 74, was fitted with two valves made from the heart of a specially bred cow

But his mitral and aortic valves started leaking again in 2019, causing blood to flow in the wrong direction through his heart. This time open heart surgery was not an option.

As his condition worsened, the father of two became so exhausted that he struggled to care for his disabled wife Carol, 73.

John, from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, said: “I got out of breath when I was on the phone.

“When I went for a walk, it felt like my battery died halfway. I didn’t know how long I
has left.”

It wasn’t until John attended a Sunday catch-up clinic last summer – which was agreed to cut waiting lists in the wake of the pandemic – that he discovered he was a candidate for a breakthrough heart valve replacement.

Cardiac surgeon Nishant Gangil, who led the operation, said: “When I first saw John he was huffing and panting as he walked straight into the examination room. He had lost hope and accepted his fate.

“I told him that although traditional surgery wasn’t an option, there was a novel treatment for him and we could implant the valves through the groin.

“We have been replacing aortic valves in this way since 2007. This was more difficult, however, because the mitral valve also had to be replaced.






Cardiac surgeon Nishant Gangil, who led the first awake double heart valve transplant

“We had to use a special needle to make a hole in his heart and put the second valve through that.

“Only a handful of these cases have been carried out worldwide.

“And we wanted to do it under local anesthetic while John was still awake.”

John admits, “I started getting a little nervous when they started talking me through it. I like to bet on the horses, but when it comes to life you want to know you’re betting on the favourite.”

After discussing his options with his family, John agreed to an operation at Coventry & Warwickshire University Hospital in September last year.

As he was wheeled into the operating room, he was advised to close his eyes lest he be overwhelmed by the number of doctors.






John’s mitral and aortic valves began leaking again in 2019, causing blood to flow through his heart in the wrong direction

He said, “As a fool, I kept them open.

“There must have been about 15 outside and another five or six with the team inside. I was like, ‘Blimey, are you all here for me?’”

Although there were several moments when the slightest mistake would be fatal, Mr. Gangil and the team spoke to John the entire time to reassure him and help him stay calm and still.

Mr Gangil said: “We kept telling John what happened otherwise he could have become scared during such a long operation.

“He was very courageous and went along with everything. His mental toughness helped him get through something unique.

“We are thrilled with the results.”







John had inserted part of a cow’s heart valve into his own
(

Picture:

(Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF)

John said: “Mr Gangil came to see me that evening and made me walk up and down the ward a couple of times.

“Then he said he went for a glass of champagne.”

John, a Territorial Army veteran whom other medics dubbed Foggy after the character Last of the Summer Wine, spent just two days recovering before heading home.

He said: “I can’t believe how much better I feel now. It’s like I’ve been reborn. I can do everything I couldn’t do before – take care of my wife, change the bed, go for a walk, shop. I haven’t felt this good since my late 30s.”

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https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/first-person-cow-heart-transplant-26739351 First person to have a cow heart transplant wide awake says it's 'like Star Wars'

Fry Electronics Team

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