Surgeons in Italy made a rare discovery while operating on a 60-year-old woman - an artificial mitral valve that is almost 50 years old. The valve was implanted in 1969 at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town by none other than heart transplant pioneer, Professor Christiaan Barnard.
At that time, the South African was considered the world's best heart surgeon after he successfully completed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant two years earlier.
According to The Guardian, when the woman was five, doctors diagnosed a serious heart valve issue. Five years later, in 1969, family members suggested she travel to South Africa for the life-saving surgery.
She was accompanied to Cape Town by her 25-year-old brother, and they described the country as an "unknown place."
After successfully receiving the implant, she spent four months recovering at the Cape Town hospital.
During a recent surgery on the now 60-year-old woman, surgeons discovered the valve still in perfect working order. According to the doctors, no older valve is recorded to exist.
Surgeons in Salerno, Italy were reportedly thrilled with their discovery, which they described as being almost "archaeological" in significance.
The woman’s operation was a success and she was discharged from the hospital a few days later.
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