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Record-breaking heart op woman feels ‘incredibly lucky’ almost 50 years on

Anne Bell underwent pioneering surgery to replace a heart valve with an artificial one in 1972.

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Seventy-seven-year-old Anne Bell is a Guinness World Record holder after becoming the longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Seventy-seven-year-old Anne Bell is a Guinness World Record holder after becoming the longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Seventy-seven-year-old Anne Bell is a Guinness World Record holder after becoming the longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A woman who has become a Guinness World Record holder as the longest surviving recipient of a single, artificial, heart valve replacement has told how she feels “incredibly lucky”.

Anne Bell, 77, underwent surgery to replace her mitral heart valve almost 50 years ago in December 1972.

The mother-of-two was one of three people who underwent the operation at the time at the former Mearnskirk Hospital in Glasgow, which had a cardiothoracic unit – but one patient only survived a few weeks after surgery while the other died a year after the op.

Mrs Bell, who was 28 years old when she had the valve replacement, said: “I was one of three people in hospital at that time who underwent this operation and out of the three I am only one who survived as sadly one patient died a few weeks after surgery and the other died a year later.”

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Anne Bell still undergoes annual hospital checks, almost five decades on from her original surgery. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Anne Bell still undergoes annual hospital checks, almost five decades on from her original surgery. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Anne Bell still undergoes annual hospital checks, almost five decades on from her original surgery. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

She added: “I feel incredibly lucky to have lived for such a long time after this operation as it’s given me the opportunity to see both my children grow up and spend time with my husband and the rest of our friends and family.

“This new world record is testament to the outstanding care and treatment I have received, not only from the medical team who carried out the operation, but also the local doctors and nurses in NHS Forth Valley who carry out regular health checks to make sure the replacement heart valve continues to do its job.”

Mrs Bell was discharged from hospital just 19 days after she underwent the pioneering operation, although she recalled how her husband Jim made daily, four-hour round trips, involving two buses, to visit her while she was there.

Living in Banknock, in Falkirk, meant her care was later transferred to the former Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary and then Forth Valley Royal Hospital – where she still undergoes annual check-ups with Dr Catherine Labinjoh, the consultant cardiologist and clinical Lead for cardiology at NHS Forth Valley.

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Heart valve transplant patient Anne Bell (centre) with her husband Jim and daughter Carol. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Heart valve transplant patient Anne Bell (centre) with her husband Jim and daughter Carol. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Heart valve transplant patient Anne Bell (centre) with her husband Jim and daughter Carol. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mrs Bell’s daughter, Carol, a a former nurse, told how watching a TV documentary on a disaster five decades ago had started the family wondering the length of time that patients usually live after a valve replacement.

She said: “We were watching a TV programme about the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster and it got us thinking about how it must be nearly as long since mum had her heart valve replacement surgery and whether this was unusual.”

She added that as her younger brother, George, had always received the Guinness Book of World Records as a Christmas present, the family had “thought it would be interesting to see what the current record was for this type of surgery”.

Ms Bell said: “We started researching it around six months ago and found that the previous record was 47 years after surgery.

“However, it is quite a long process to get a new record confirmed as they require a lot of detailed information and evidence to support it.”

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Cardiologist Dr Catherine Labinjoh said she hoped Anne Bell’s story would ‘offer hope to the families of other individuals who face similar surgery in the future’. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Cardiologist Dr Catherine Labinjoh said she hoped Anne Bell’s story would ‘offer hope to the families of other individuals who face similar surgery in the future’. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Cardiologist Dr Catherine Labinjoh said she hoped Anne Bell’s story would ‘offer hope to the families of other individuals who face similar surgery in the future’. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The family’s research, supported by clinical information and testimonies supplied by Dr Labinjoh, confirmed Mrs Bell has set a new record of 49 years and 60 days – with the family receiving a framed certificate when this was confirmed last month.

Dr Labinjoh said she had been “happy to play a small part by working with the family to gather the medical evidence they needed to secure the new world record”.

She added: “Anne has shown great strength, determination and courage over many years and I hope her story will offer hope to the families of other individuals who face similar surgery in the future.”

Dr Albert Starr, the 95-year-old US cardiac surgeon, based in Portland, Oregon, who jointly developed heart valve replacement surgery, commented: “Work on the valve implanted in this patient began in 1958 by Lowell Edwards and myself in Portland with the first human implant in 1960.

“The refined model Anne Bell received was completed in 1965 and became the valve of choice for many decades.”

Nick Walker, UK country director of the valve’s manufacturer, Edwards Lifesciences, added: “We are delighted to learn of Anne Bell’s world record. 50 years ago, she was one of the earliest people in Scotland to receive valve replacement, but the science has moved on considerably since.

“Anne is a shining example to other patients that this condition is treatable and that they can lead a good quality of life.”

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