Falkirk patient Sets New Guinness World Record for Heart Valve Surgery

A Forth Valley patient has set a new Guinness World Record after undergoing pioneering heart surgery almost 50 years ago.

Seventy-seven-year-old Anne Bell, from Banknock in Falkirk, is the longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement.

The operation to replace her mitral heart valve was carried out on 4th December 1972 at the former Meanskirk Hospital in Glasgow when Anne was just 28 years old with two young children (daughter Carol and son George who were just aged 8 and 4 at the time). Her husband, Jim Bell, made daily 4-hour round trips involving two buses to travel to the hospital to visit his wife while she recovered from the operation.

Following her operation, which was carried out under the care of under the care of surgeon Robert Barclay and physician John Reid, Anne’s care transferred to the former Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary and then Forth Valley Royal Hospital where she undergoes annual checks carried out by NHS Forth Valley, Consultant Cardiologist and Clinical Lead for Cardiology, Dr Catherine Labinjoh.

Daughter Carol Bell, a former nurse, 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.

“My brother always got the Guinness Book of World Records as a Christmas present and we thought it would be interesting to see what the current record was for this type of surgery. We started researching it around 6 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.”

Following the family’s research, supported by clinical information and testimonies supplied by Dr Labinjoh, the new record of 49 years and 60 days was finally confirmed on 2nd February 2022 and the family received a framed certificate

Anne, who was discharged from hospital just 19 days after the operation, says she feels very lucky to have survived and is very grateful to all the medical and nursing staff involved in her care over the past five decades.

She explained: “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.

“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.”

Dr Catherine Labinjoh, NHS Forth Valley, Consultant Cardiologist and Clinical Lead for Cardiology, said: “This is an incredible achievement, and I was happy to play a small part by working with the family to gather the medical evidence they needed to secure the new world record.

“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.”