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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 January, 2004, 00:25 GMT
NHS stories: Making better heart valves
Richard Leskin
Richard chose to have a pioneering operation
As part of a series of articles, BBC News Online reporter Jane Elliott looks behind the scenes at the NHS.

This week, she focuses on how a patient's own tissues were used to create a new heart valve, lessening the risk of rejection.

When Richard Leskin was born with a congenital heart defect it was clear he would at some stage need further surgery.

But what no-one could have foreseen is that the 42-year-old from London would become a world-first.

It was a big decision
Richard Leskin
For when Richard needed a heart valve replaced, doctors created him one from his own heart tissue, lessening the risk of rejection.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Professor Gilles Dreyfus, at Harefield Hospital, part of Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust, reconstructed Richard's aortic valve using his own heart tissue - the pericardium.

Professor Dreyfus said one of the great advantages of using the patient's own tissue is that there is no need to treat for rejection as one would need to do with an animal or a human valve substitute.

Since there is no risk of rejection, the patient does not need to take immunosuppressant drugs.

Doctors also hope that, because of the compatibility, the valve could last as long as 20 years.

Professor Dreyfus said they had carried out four other operations since February 2003.

He added: "There are no drugs to be given, so it has the advantage over other valve replacements.

"This is a very exciting development in valve surgery.

"We know that this new valvular substitute works fine and it may well be the ideal valve if its durability is proved - only time will tell but the signs are promising.

"We hope that it is the ideal replacement."

'No regrets'

Richard said that since his operation in February, he now feels a lot healthier.

"I was born with congenital aortic stenosis which is a narrowing of the aorta.

"They said the aortic valve would need replacing some time in my 40s.

"I am somebody who tends to want to know what was happening and to know what research there is and this sounded a good idea.

Now I am doing things with so much more ease
Richard Leskin

"The advantage of this is that they could use my own tissue so that resolved any matching issues.

"It is quite strange - because I was so used to the symptoms I had not noticed how bad it was.

"But now I am doing things with so much more ease.

"I am going for walks that I used to get breathless with. I am noticing a significant improvement."

He said he had no regrets about being the first person to undergo the six-and-a-half hour operation.

"It was a big decision. I could have had a biological or mechanical valve, but I would have needed to take drugs for the rest of my life."

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