Professor Darren Walters holding the Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

Cow heart bags scarce for export of life-saving human heart valves

Lives could be at risk as a Queensland company struggles to fulfill orders for critical heart valve replacements for critically ill patients.

A beef byproduct, which uses the fat attached to a cow’s pericardium, is used in transcatheter aortic valve implantations (TAVIs) in heart patients with aortic stenosis, who suffer from narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve due to built up calcium or cholesterol.

Nolan Meats is one of many Australian companies to be accredited to supply bovine pericardial tissue to medical manufacturers in the United States.

A cleaned cow heart bag.Landline: Kathleen Calderwood

“We’re flying that out every night and it’s going over to the US and they’re making heart valves for transplant back into people, so you’re actually saving lives by collecting that product,” said director Terry Nolan.

“But some days you don’t pick them up because you don’t have the people to pick them up.”

The delicate fabric is expertly removed to ensure it is not damaged before being carefully cleaned, packaged and air-freighted to California.

ABC Rural contacted the Australian Medical Association and Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane to ask if there was any impact on Australian surgeons’ ability to obtain the TAVIs.

Terry Nolan stands above the production line.
Nolan Meats director Terry Nolan says the staff shortage is biting hard.ABC Rural: Bruce Atkinson

Mr Nolan said his family’s meat factory employed two-thirds of the workers it needed, and despite paying above the allotted wages, their Gympie factory had 150 vacancies to fill.

Cattle eat in a meadow with green hills behind it.
The majority of the livestock processed at the plant is fed in the company’s Wide Bay feedlot in Cinnabar.Delivered: Terry Nolan

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