University of Cape Town Aortic Heart Valve

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This interesting looking heart valve is sometimes called the toilet plunger valve with a tethered plunger prosthesis with a double cone-shaped poppet. It was designed by Christiaan Barnard of the University of Cape Town. It was available for implantation between 1961 and early 1970s. In 1967, Barnard led the surgical team that performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. After his residency at the University of Cape Town he came to the United States to receive training from Dr. Walter Lillehei (1918-1999) at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Barnard (1922-2001) was inspired by the way in which the water tank in a toilets function, and he saw similarities with the human heart. Due to the tiny metal rings which held the 'plunger' in place, clotting occurred. In spite of that, this valve was implanted in humans. In the words of Manny Villafana, "you've gotta understand that there was no answer and everyone was looking for an answer." This is why the valve was used, in spite of thrombosis and thromboembolism. These issues led to its eventual discontinuation.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1965
place made
South Africa: Western Cape, Province of the, Cape Town
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
silicone rubber (overall material)
overall: 4.5 cm x 3 cm x 3 cm; 1 25/32 in x 1 3/16 in x 1 3/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Manuel Villafaña
Artificial Organs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Artificial Heart Valves
Health & Medicine
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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