Cow Valve Replacement Surgery – Bovine Valves

I will never forget my first interview with a heart surgeon.

My cardiologists – Dr. Wyman and Dr. Chaikin – had already confirmed that my aortic valve was suffering from severe stenosis and regurgitation. As they both told me, I needed a new valve and I needed it soon.

Cow Valve Replacement Option For Patients Interested In Bovine Pericardial Tissue

That first, surgical interview I held was with Dr. Alfredo Trento, the Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Hospital in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Trento’s office was six stories up and looked across the Hollywood Hills. It was quite impressive.

“I’ve looked at your film Adam,” Dr. Trento said as he sat down in his leather chair, “You definitely need a new valve.” He continued, “Now you have some options. You can select a pig valve. You can select a cow valve. You can select an artificial or mechanical valve. Or, you can opt for your own valve using the Ross Procedure.”

I’ll never forget that moment. I gazed over at my mom who was sitting two feet away from me. “A pig valve? A cow valve?” I questioned Dr. Trento, “You mean I could have a cow valve used to replace my diseased aortic valve?”

Dr. Trento went on to explain that cow valves have been used for many years as valve replacements. By some, strange twist of evolutionary coincidence, our valves and cow valves are similar in tissue physiology. That makes them a frequent choice for heart valve replacement.

Although I opted for a different surgical approach – I underwent the Ross Procedure – I was always curious to know more about bovine valves and who manufactures them. It is quite an odd curiosity, I admit, but it exists. Plus, I needed to better research cow valves for my book.

  • First off, you should know that bovine valves are chemically treated for transplantation from the animal to the human patient. The human body typically responds positively to this procedure because of the similarities in tissue composition.
  • Second, unlike a pig valve replacement, a bovine valve uses the tissue of the cow’s heart NOT the actual structure. I better understood this when I visited Edwards Lifesciences for a heart valve manufacturing tour. Essentially, the cow valve results from a sophisticated manufacturing process in which the pericardial sack (the tough tissue sac that surrounds the heart of a cow) is collected and then processed into proper shape. Very, very, very, very interesting, right?

The disadvantage, however, is that the animal valve is not as durable as a human valve (given the lifespan of a cow) and is often more susceptible to calcification on the valve leaflets following a heart valve replacement operation.

Cow Valve Replacement Surgery - Bovine Valve

Reports suggest that the average lifetime of a cow valve replacement is about 10 to 15 years. Although some research suggests that cow valve replacements may last over 20 years. Therefore, younger patients opting to have cow valve replacement surgery may need to have a re-operation at a future time.

I hope this helps better explain cow valve replacement surgery and bovine valve replacement surgery.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Dennis Trimble

    I’m 70 and had a Bovine mitral valve replaced 7 years ago. I recently had an eco cardiogram and my valve is as healthy as it was when it was replaced. I am now in a fitness center, have a personal trainer. In a matter of 5 weeks, I’ve improve my strength and stability I did not have at 50. I walked in the fitness center today and It
    was posted I was their best client of the month. I take a drug to keep my heart rate down. This morning I did 3.5 miles on the tred mill at 3.5 mph and my heart rate did not go above104. The bottom line is exercise, eat very healthy, keep your BMI at 24 and you should do alright.

  • chet

    my aortic mechanical heart valve is giving trouble. doc says I may need to replace it. I’m 77 years old. can i get a pig’s valve this time?

  • Kristina P

    Hi Kenny, How did your surgery go. Yes this is a great site.I have the same exact issue also my surgeon is Dr. Girardi and I will be scheduling for April. I am 49 years old and leaning for the bovine valve. Would love to hear your success.

  • chet

    anybody out there that has replaced a mechanical aortic valve with a pigs valve or cow valve?

  • Sylvia

    Just had a subclavian TAVR procedure at Pepin Heart in Tampa. Went very smoothly w/very little discomfort. Went home 3 days later and no complications so far. I am 70 yr old large woman w/underlying atrial fib problem. I was nervous but it was one of the easiest surgeries that I have had.

  • SIha

    Hello, Im am inerested in finding out more info on how long a bovine valve will last because my one & only son was born with Tetrology of Fallot & has had 3 heart surgeries, his first at 4 days old with lots of complications. & hospitilizations that followed. At around 5 & 1/2 months old was when his 2nd surgery for his complete heart repair was done. They used a bovine valve to do the replacement. He was admitted right back into the hospital after just being discharged the day before for complications & then had to endure a 3rd open heart surgery a week after the 2nd surgery. He was then put on 6 weeks of intravenous 24hr antibiotic (VENKO, that I changed myself everyday). It honestly sucked but, was said to be necessary to prevent a bloodborne infection. About 2 months after his surgery, we found out that he already had a leak in the valve & regurgitation. He is now he is 2 yrs & 3 months old. He last seen his cardiologist in Dec. 2015 & not again til December of this year(2016). My concern is, How long will a bovine valve last if it already has a leak & showing signs of regurgitation shortly after implantation. Doctors always says its ok if it has a leak & people live like that perfectly fine healthy lives with a leak un the valve but , THEY ARE NOT MY BABY…. So my question is, How long would you estimate a bovine valve with a leak & regurgitation to last? & Also, in your opinion, how often should my child be seeing his cardiologist knowing that he has a leak in his valve?

  • SIha

    How will I know when it is time to replace my son’s bovine valve?…. Are there some early warning symptoms that I should look out for & what are they?… Thank you again

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