New Type of Heart Valve

James Dauteuil probably never expected he would be wearing a piece of “leather” inside his heart.

But Dauteuil, 76, is now one of three people in the Rochester area to have had a mitral valve made of cow tissue implanted in his heart.

He is also one of around 60,000 Americans with mitral valve defects who might be able to take advantage of this specially engineered, cow tissue-based valve.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the cow tissue mitral heart valve manufactured by Edwards Lifesciences Corp. of Irvine, Calif.

Valve Designed From Cow Heart Tissue

The valve is made from the cow pericardium, or the tissue surrounding the heart in the cow. The company takes the tissue and engineers it to fit the human mitral valve position, says company spokeswoman Suzanne Gilmore.

The mitral valve is the third valve in the heart after blood enters it from the venous system. The mitral valve pushes blood to the left ventricle, from which blood flows to the aorta, where blood is pumped to the body.

The valve replaced the one in Dauteuil’s heart that was blocked. His natural tissue was so clogged that blood was barely able to flow through it.

“The breathing was getting harder,” said Dauteuil.

Dr. William Risher, a heart surgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, along with a cardiac team, removed Dauteuil’s old valve and replaced it with the new one.

“We sewed stitches in the heart and sewed stitches in the ring and settled the valve,” said Risher.

Low Failure Rates With Cow Tissue

Doctors say the biggest advantage of this new type of valve is its decreased failure rate. Only about two or three out of every 100 valves will have to be replaced in the next 10 years. That is, on average, four times lower than the previous animal tissue replacement valves, which were made of pig tissue. The pig tissue valves were not engineered specifically for the mitral valve region.

Mechanical valves made of carbon or metal are also made by a variety of companies, but they run the risk of causing a person’s blood to clot and require the use of blood thinners. For women of child-bearing years or patients in which blood thinners would be harmful, mechanical devices are not appropriate, Gilmore says.

Dauteuil is now is breathing better on his own. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time,” he said.

“Our goal is to hopefully give him this valve and he may never have to have another valve replaced in the future,” Risher said.

ABCNEWS’ Liz Bonis of WORK-TV in Rochester and Robin Eisner of contributed to this report.