Guinness World Record: Pioneering heart surgery survivor from Falkirk is a record breaker

A mother of two who had pioneering heart surgery almost half a century ago has set a new Guinness World Record.

Anne Bell, 77, from Banknock, Falkirk, is the longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement.

She was also one of the first in Scotland to receive a valve replacement.

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Ann said she felt “incredibly lucky” to have lived for such a long time after her surgery.

Anne Bell with husband Jim and daughter Carol Bell

The operation to replace her mitral heart valve was carried out on December 4, 1972 at the former Mearnskirk Hospital in Glasgow when Anne was just 28 years old.

Her husband, Jim, made a daily four-hour round trips involving two buses to visit his wife as she recovered from surgery, while her two children, daughter Carol and son George, who were only eight and four at the time, were looked after by relatives.

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Anne, who was discharged from hospital just 19 days after the operation, says she feels very lucky to have survived and is very grateful to all the medical and nursing staff involved in her care over the past five decades.

Jim and Anne Bell. on their wedding day on October 19, 1963

She said: “I was one of three people in hospital at that time who underwent this operation and out of the three I am only one who survived as sadly one patient died a few weeks after surgery and the other died a year later.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have lived for such a long time after this operation as it’s given me the opportunity to see both my children grow up and spend time with my husband and the rest of our friends and family.

"This new world record is testament to the outstanding care and treatment I have received, not only from the medical team who carried out the operation, but also the local doctors and nurses in NHS Forth Valley who carry out regular health checks to make sure the replacement heart valve continues to do its job.”

Following her operation, which was carried out under the care of under the care of surgeon Robert Barclay and physician John Reid, Anne’s care transferred to the former Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary and then Forth Valley Royal Hospital where she undergoes annual checks carried out by NHS Forth Valley, Consultant Cardiologist and Clinical Lead for Cardiology, Dr Catherine Labinjoh.

Ann Bell with her certificate to confirm she is Guinness World Record holder as longest surviving recipient of a single artificial heart valve replacement. Pic: Michael Gillen
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A chance remark made the Bell family wonder if Ann’s surgery was unusual.

Daughter Carol Bell, a former nurse, said: “We were watching a TV programme about the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster and it got us thinking about how it must be nearly as long since mum had her heart valve replacement surgery and whether this was unusual.

“My brother always got the Guinness Book of World Records as a Christmas present and we thought it would be interesting to see what the current record was for this type of surgery.

Anne Bell with Mark Wilson, Highly Specialist Cardiac Physiologist, at one of her regular health checks at Forth Valley Royal Hospital

"We started researching it around six months ago and found that the previous record was 47 years after surgery.

"However, it is quite a long process to get a new record confirmed as they require a lot of detailed information and evidence to support it.”

Following the family’s research, supported by clinical information and testimonies supplied by Dr Labinjoh, the new record of 49 years and 60 days was finally confirmed on February 2 this year and the family received a framed certificate.

Dr Labinjoh said: “This is an incredible achievement, and I was happy to play a small part by working with the family to gather the medical evidence they needed to secure the new world record.

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“Anne has shown great strength, determination and courage over many years and I hope her story will offer hope to the families of other individuals who face similar surgery in the future.”

Dr. Albert Starr, the 95-year-old US cardiac surgeon, based in Portland, Oregon, who jointly developed heart valve replacement surgery, said: “Work on the valve implanted in this patient began in 1958 by Lowell Edwards and myself in Portland with the first human implant in 1960. The refined model Anne Bell received was completed in 1965 and became the valve of choice for many decades.”

Nick Walker, UK Country Director of the valve’s manufacturer, Edwards Lifesciences, added: “We are delighted to learn of Anne Bell’s world record. Fifty years ago, she was one of the earliest people in Scotland to receive valve replacement, but the science has moved on considerably since.

"Anne is a shining example to other patients that this condition is treatable and that they can lead a good quality of life.”

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