Ironic: Vegetarian Kept Alive By Pig Valve Replacement?

I guess this patient success story would classify as ironic.

According to The Scottish Sun, a vegetarian teenager from Scotland, who was suffering from a rare cardiac condition, is now being kept alive by a pig heart valve replacement.

Robyn Cairney, 18, of Ruckazie, Glasgow was diagnosed with aortic stenosis and regurgitation after she collapsed at the gym. Over time, the condition caused her aorta to narrow, which allowed blood to dangerously flow back to her heart. The most common symptom is shortness of breath with exertion, resulting in some patients feeling “out of shape,” according to the American Heart Association.

Robyn Cairney – Heart Valve Replacement Patient

“It came totally out of the blue,” Cairney told The Sun. “I was at the gym and became unwell during a mile run. I couldn’t breathe and wouldn’t stop coughing. Then my lips started turning blue and I knew that something was seriously wrong.”

When the valve becomes excessively obstructed or leaky, the valve must be repaired or replaced.

“The doctors told me that I would need to have a valve taken out and replaced by one from a pig,” Cairney said. “It was a bit of a shock being a vegetarian, but I realized it was a life or death choice. Obviously everyone is going to pick life, so now I’m a vegetarian being kept alive by a pig.”

Cairney was fitted with the pig’s valve during open heart surgery at the Golden Jubilee Hospital near Glasgow. This type of valve replacement could last for 20 years. Cairney may have to undergo surgery in the future to have a mechanical valve fitted.

“I’m just glad I can get on with my life now and am determined to make the most of everything I do,” she added.

Keep on tickin’ Robyn!

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

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  • rochelle hammer

    I had a pig valve put in a year ago… on a very holy holiday eve of Yom Kippur.

    Being Jewish there were some question about this by my family so we talked to the rabbi.

    He said your health and well being are more important.

    So we say my valve is kosher!

  • Rick Pruett

    Robyn Cairney is brave on multiple levels. One, she came through the surgery and is looking forward to her future. And two, she raised the necessary question of animal sacrifice so that many humans, including herself, can live. This took guts! Many people both young and old would laugh at her ethics, in my opinion, her compassion for animals.

    A vegetarian for 33 years, I was diagnosed with bicuspid aortic stenosis 24 years ago. At the time, I had just completed two years as a cardiovascular surgical assistant and was applying for medical school in Texas. My wife and I had our first born on the way and I made the decision not to pursue medical school. Talk about a gut punch! I knew exactly what I was in store for and that I’d have to deal with an ethical dilemma, beef heparin and the possibility of a porcine valve. I selected the St. Jude prosthetic valve implant but knew I would still be compromising my beliefs to literally save my life. Obviously, the will to live, as it should, won out. Ethical dilemmas like this might seem foolish to many, but after studying the life of Albert Schweitzer, St. Francis of Assisi and Gandhi, one begins to question the reality, albeit apparent necessity of animal sacrifice.

    Now, I’m a 53 year old vegan and swim 60 Olympic lengths 3 times a week. Unless the powers that be have kept it from us, our current level of technology doesn’t support heart surgery that is vegetarian, vegan or for that matter without the element animal “ingredients.” We know that at some point in the future, stem cell research will provide us the ability to take a human cadaver valve and use it as a template to grow a heart valve from our own DNA! Moreover, synthetic heparin will also come about and perhaps the same way. This doesn’t lessen the enormous contribution animal research and animal tissues have made for our benefit. Simply, we could not have survived or developed these procedures with them.

    As an animal rights enthusiast, one must be practical; one must be reasonable but never discount our ethical questions or our love for animals. Robyn Cairney is someone we should all be very proud of!


  • Robyn Cairney

    Thats me !! lol

    Thank you for all your support guys ! in the run up to my operation your website was a great help to myself and my mum. i wanted to know everything that was going to happen to me and my mum wanted to understand more about my condiction !!

    Thank you everyone !! xxxx

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