Surgeons removing the valves from a heart before they are prepared for the tissue bank

Ten months after its doors opened, a tissue bank that stores parts of the human heart destined for transplant is seeking more donors.

Officials from the National Cardiovascular Homograft Bank said yesterday that it has received eight tissue grafts, such as heart valves and the main artery of the heart, since February.

They hope to build up a bank of at least 20 heart valves.

The first facility of its kind here, the bank was created to help transplant patients get a replacement heart valve faster and more cheaply than getting one from abroad.

Usually, heart patients use mechanical valves or those made from synthetic or animal tissue.

However, each year, at least 10 patients in government hospitals here - about 10 per cent of those who need valve replacements - have to rely on human valves from overseas because their hearts cannot take the cheaper and more easily available alternatives.

Trawling for a suitable valve at the 70 tissue banks outside Singapore can take a few weeks and the cost can be as much as $7,000 per valve, said Dr Lim Yeong Phang, the tissue bank's medical director.

A local valve can be made available within a few hours and can cost up to $3,000 less.

Two patients have received transplants from the bank, which is run by the National Heart Centre Singapore, a 185-bed facility located beside the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The demand for heart valves is set to increase in the years to come, especially among patients with heart defects at birth, said Dr Lim, who is also a consultant at the heart centre's cardiothoracic surgery department.

Singapore hospitals started to do congenital heart repairs in the 1980s, and such patients need valve replacements after two to three decades, he explained.

Singaporeans have to pledge to donate their heart valves, which unlike kidneys, hearts, livers and corneas, are not covered by the Human Organ Transplant Act (Hota).

The organs covered by Hota are automatically available for donation upon a person's death unless the deceased has formally opted out.

According to the National Organ Transplant Unit's senior manager Sally Kong, this is one reason donors are hard to come by.

The fact that heart tissue has to be taken within 24 hours of death also limits the number of usable tissue grafts available.

Not all donors are suitable. Unsuitable donors include intravenous drug users and those who have had cancer or serious infections.

The heart tissue bank, which was started with $1 million from the Health Ministry, collects tracheal or windpipe tissue as well because the heart centre also treats cases of trauma and other diseases of the rest of the thorax.

'We hope to get numbers up to 20, 30, 40. The more we get, the more ready we will be,' said Dr Lim. 


Quick facts

Who needs heart valve implants?

  • Those born with abnormal or missing heart valves. 
  • Those with heart diseases.

Donated valves come from:

  • Heart transplant patients who consent to giving their original hearts. 
  • Tissue donations.  

How are the valve tissues recovered?

  • Removal of heart valve tissues within 24 hours of donor's death. 
  • Testing of valves. 
  • Trimming and checking of valve size. 
  • Antibiotic sterilisation. 
  • Freezing below -180 deg C.  
If you wish to donate your heart tissue, download the organ donation pledge form at

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.