University of Cape Town Mitral Valve

Description (Brief)
Also called the toilet plunger valve because of its remarkable resemblance to the inner workings of a toilet, this valve was designed by Christiaan Barnard of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. This valve had been implanted and eventually explanted. Notice the worn and discolored cloth suture, and the wear of the silicone disc. The valve has a low profile and the principal causes of death with this valve were thromboembolism.
Dr. Barnard (1922-2001) was inspired by the way in which the water tank in a toilet functions, and he saw similarities with the human heart. Due to the tiny metal ring which held the 'plunger' in place, clotting occurred. In spite of that, this valve was implanted in humans. In an interview donor Manny Villafana explained, "you've gotta understand that there was no answer (a workable artificial heart valve) 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.
Barnard is best known for the dramatic headline grabbing first human-to-human heart transplant in 1967.
Currently not on view
Object Name
artificial heart valve
date made
Physical Description
cloth (overall material)
metal (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 1.9 cm x 3.6 cm; 3/4 in x 1 13/32 in
place made
South Africa: Western Cape, Province of the, Cape Town
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Artificial Heart Valves
Artificial Organs
Health & Medicine
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Artificial Heart Valves
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Manuel Villafaña
Additional Media

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