The first person to receive a heart transplant from a cow while awake described the experience as “like star wars‘.
John Smallwood, a retired paramedic and Territorial Army veteran, had previously undergone heart surgery.
However, when his heart stopped, the 74-year-old was told traditional surgery was no longer an option.
After much deliberation, John finally agreed to participate in a pioneering heart valve replacement surgery.
Nine years ago, John underwent open-heart surgery to repair a leaking mitral valve, reports The Mirror.
However, in 2019, not only his mitral valves but also his aortic valves started leaking.
John was left in a weak state, often feeling out of breath [from] just talking on the phone”, running out of “battery” during short walks.
John was scared ‘how long [he] was gone,” worrying about who would then care for his disabled wife Carol.
The head of the operation, coronary and structural interventional cardiologist Nishant Gangil, explained how John seemed to have “lost hope and accepted his fate”.
While traditional surgery “wasn’t an option”, Gangil spoke to the 74-year-old about a “new treatment” which would see valves implanted “through the groin”. However, he warned the process was “more difficult” than the aortic valve replacement surgeries that have been taking place since 2007.
The 74-year-old needed two new valves, so a specially bred cow’s heart was prepared for the transplant.
However, due to his heart failure, he had to stay awake rather than undergo the operation under general anesthesia.
If he moved even a fraction, he might die.
“We had to use a special needle to create a hole in his heart and put the second valve in there. Only a handful of those cases have been done in the world. And we were going to do it under local anaesthetic, while John was still awake. .,” Gangil explained.
Although he was initially ‘a bit nervous’ about the operation, after discussing it with his family John agreed to have it last September.
Gangil said the 74-year-old was briefed on the operation every step of the way so he wouldn’t “worry” about how long it was taking.
John reflected on how shocked he was to see ’15 or so [doctors] outside [the theatre] and another five out of six with the team inside”.
However, Gangil noted how “very brave” and cooperative John was. “[John’s] the mental toughness helped him get through something quite unique,” the surgeon said.
John said, “It was like something was coming out of star wars. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this surgery.”
Gangil noted how all the doctors were “ecstatic” with the results, with John able to “walk around the ward several times” just hours after the operation.
John concluded: “I can’t believe how much better I feel now. It’s like being reborn. I can do everything I couldn’t do before: take care of my wife, change bed, going for a walk, doing I haven’t felt this good since my late thirties.
“It’s a big step forward, like the first heart transplant. Hopefully it will open the door for others like me who are deemed too risky for open heart surgery or general anaesthesia.”