Heart valve treatment pioneered in West Yorkshire

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Patients who have leaky valves that are too wide, allowing blood to flow back to the heart, can now have a replacement one fitted.

The aortic valves are made from animal tissue by a firm based in the village of Swillington, near Leeds.

Leeds General Infirmary is one of only two hospitals in the UK to offer the procedure, which is done by using keyhole surgery.

Consultant cardiologist Professor Dan Blackman described the procedure as “hugely exciting”.

He said the valve was placed into a metal frame which is then compressed.

“It’s small enough to squeeze into a tube that will fit in the artery in the groin,” he said.

“So once the valves inside that tube, we can pass it up from the artery in the groin up to the heart under X-ray guidance.

“When in position, essentially, we’re pulling the tube back to release the frame and then the frame blinkers itself in position.

“The old valve is squashed behind the frame and the new valve takes over.”

Patients receive sedation and painkillers but otherwise stay awake throughout the operation.

The JenaValve Trilogy system has only been approved for use in the UK since September, with the first patients being treated at Leeds in October.

Angela Ainsworth, from the company, said each valve was handmade at its Swillington factory.

“The tissue is cut to shape and then sutured or stitched into the valve and there’s about 1,000 really small stitches that attaches the tissue to the valve,” she said.

“It’s so small that the process has to be done under a microscope.”

One of the first people to undergo the surgery was 79-year-old Allan Kidd from Wakefield, who has had heart problems since 2019.

He said he hoped the operation would make a difference to his health.

“It’s been difficult really, because my breathing has been really bad,” he said.

“I used to be fit and active and walked everywhere and did all that, but as the breathing got worse and worse, I couldn’t even walk from my lunch to the kitchen without getting out of breath.”