We live in a remote, rural area. My grandmother has just had her aortic heart valve replaced in a city hospital. A pig valve was implanted. I’m worried because pork is listed as an unclean meat. And why does valve disease occur? Will healthful living prevent my needing valve surgery as I age?
Excellent and pertinent questions! Heart valves of porcine (pig) and bovine (cow) tissue have been used for many years in the surgical treatment of human valvular heart disease. The animal valves are harvested, specially treated, and sterilized, and may function efficiently for many years in the human heart.
These valves are used especially where blood thinning may be difficult to monitor or would complicate already-existing diseases. Blood thinners are required to prevent blood clots forming on material foreign to the body, when mechanical or artificial—usually metallic valves—are used. Porcine and bovine valves are less likely to generate clots. This may be the reason a porcine valve was selected for your grandmother’s surgery.
We don’t have an official statement on the use of porcine heart valves for Seventh-day Adventists, nor did we have one on the use of porcine insulin at the time when synthetic or genetically engineered insulin was not available. Animal-sourced insulin was all that was available and was lifesaving and sustaining. As such, it was used by Seventh-day Adventists who needed it.
Just as porcine insulin was used as a lifesaving measure, porcine heart valves may play a similar role in specific circumstances. In the setting where a porcine valve implant will prolong and sustain life, it may be used without reservation. Once the patient has been appropriately diagnosed and guided by their treating physicians, we as a church neither criticize nor disagree with this course of recommended treatment.
It’s important to note, however, that this is a general recommendation, as we are not aware of all the nuances of a particular patient’s medical situation and possible anticipated complications. Each individual should exercise informed choices.
Heart valve disease has many causes: congenital malformations (bicuspid aortic valve), coronary heart disease and heart attacks (mitral valve leaks), inherited and very high blood cholesterol (hereditary/ familial hypercholesterolemia), infections (rheumatic fever, infective endocarditis), and degenerative (progressive mitral valve dysfunction/prolapse and leaking) and extensive damage to the heart muscle (as in what are termed cardiomyopathies).
Many of these conditions are not preventable by healthful living. Rheumatic fever is more common in circumstances in which there is consistent household overcrowding, inadequate access to health care, and delayed recognition of the disease. On the other hand, healthful living, careful diet, rest, and regular exercise are all important factors in preventing coronary artery disease, and also in modifying the progression of established coronary disease. Congenital and hereditary conditions are generally unavoidable.
We are designed to enjoy vigor, quality of life, and even longevity despite our inevitable brokenness as we live on this fallen planet. We encourage you to adopt and live the Adventist healthy lifestyle, living life to the fullest (see John 10:10, NIV).
As you do this, we wish you complete shalom, by His grace.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.