'A miracle has happened': First person in UK receives heart valve replacement at John Radcliffe

  • WATCH: ITV Meridian's Ciaran Fitzpatrick meets the first person in the country to receive a Tricupsid valve replacement.

Surgeons in Oxford have carried out the first procedure of its kind in the UK on a patient with severe heart valve disease.

Before the groundbreaking treatment at John Radcliffe Hospital, 79 year-old Rosalind Walsh had debilitating symptoms including breathlessness.

"I couldn't walk two steps or even get up from a chair without feeling breathless," said Rosalind.

"I went from being able to handle all my housework and drive my car, to being able to do nothing.

At one point her illness got so severe, she spent almost a month in A&E. It was here where she was diagnosed with a leaking heart valve, or Tricupsid Regurgitation. They drained 15kg of water from her body.

Dr Sam Dawkins ran the team who performed the groundbreaking UK-first procedure at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Credit: ITV Meridian

What is Tricuspid Regurgitation?

  • It is a disorder in which the tricuspid valve, in which controls the flow of blood from the heart's right atrium (top chamber) to the right ventricle (bottom chamber), does not close properly.

  • Patients with this condition can have very debilitating symptoms such as fluid retention, particularly in legs, and severe breathlessness.

  • It can lead to a very poor quality of life and even be life-threatening.

  • Options for treating this condition have been very limited as open heart surgery is often prohibitively high risk and there are no effective drug treatments.

Valve repairs had been possible for years but valve replacement was only possible with open heart surgery. But following years of clinical trials, the team at Oxford Heart Centre, based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, were able to treat patients with the condition.

Transcatheter Tricuspid Valve Replacement (TTVR) procedures involve replacing the leaky valve with a new valve. It is delivered through a leg vein, under a light anaesthetic, avoiding the need for open heart surgery.

Patients do not need to spend time on an intensive care unit and should be able to leave hospital within a couple of days.

The leaky tricuspid valve is replaced with a new valve that can be delivered via a leg vein under a light anaesthetic. Credit: Oxford University Hospitals

Dr Sam Dawkins, an Interventional Cardiologist at John Radcliffe, carried out the procedures. He says its main benefit is how it avoids the need for long spells in intensive care.

"Oxford is the first centre in the world to use the device outside clinical trials, which is an amazing thing for the team here and for the NHS as a whole," said Dawkins.

Tricupsid Regurgitation is "so debilitating and limiting to patients", according to Dr Dawkins.

"Now we have this new technologies available we've seen these amazing transformations. All the patients we've treated since have a similar response. They have a procedure that's low risk, quick recovery and they come into clinic after procedure completely transformed."

Rosalind said her life has changed dramatically since she had the procedure in December 2023, saying the staff at the John Radcliffe made her feel "like a celebrity" with a cupcake saying 'UK first' on it.

"I don't want to sound too dramatic, but it feels as if though a miracle has happened to me," believes Rosalind. "I feel so much better than before I had it done!"

She's now able to drive her car again and is focusing on writing a book. Medics hope that more people all over the country with the condition can begin to lead a normal life.