Twenty seven years ago, M.S. Valiathan, cardiothoracic surgeon and founder-director at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology created history when he successfully developed and implanted the Chitra Valve into K.D. Muralidharan, who at the time had a diseased aortic valve due to rheumatic heart disease.
Today, K.D. Muralidharan leads a happy retired life in Kunnamkulam and is extremely grateful to Dr Valiathan for his invention.
“Dr Valiathan called me on Wednesday morning, something he does every year, without fail. And I am happy to report to him that I am hale and hearty, that despite minor ailments, my heart has been going strong”, Mr Muralidharan said to The Hindu.
The Chitra Valve, the only valve created in India, is a low cost indigenous mechanical device which regulates blood flow in and out of the heart.
Widely regarded as a medical breakthrough, it provided a cost-effective alternative to several heart patients in India who could not afford the costs of imported valves.
It has even managed to capture a significant proportion of the market for mechanical valves in India and abroad, proving that India could invent its own technology with long-lasting positive effects.
Dr Valiathan, the brain behind the invention was inspired by the many patients who were denied valves, solely because they could not afford them.
In his article, published in the Journal of Biosciences in 2008, he writes, “We were flooded with patients who urgently needed a valve replacement, but were too poor to pay for the valve. Nothing was more painful or cruel than the denial of a surgical procedure to a patient on the ground that a life-saving device was beyond his or her means. The failure to reach out to the suffering on the ground of economics was a violation of the basic goal of medicine, ‘for the good of many, for the wellbeing of many’ ”.
This was the inspiration behind his desire to create an affordable valve that would last an entire lifetime. After forming a small team at the institute, research for the valve began in 1974. To give the valve a longer lifespan, it was made out of metal alloy and polyester as a mechanical device, rather than with animal tissue.
Sheep were used to test the durability of the valve, and it took an arduous fifteen years before the team struck gold.
After clinical trials on 40 patients, and repeated trials in other centres, the mechanical valve proved its worth. Patients with rheumatic fever, which later developed into rheumatic heart disease were some of the earliest recipients of the valve. It has since been successfully implanted into over one lakh patients all over India; without a single malady. A newer version of the Chitra valve was released in 2016.
The invention of the Chitra valve sheds light on how perseverance and commitment can lead Indians to explore uncharted territory and emerge as victors.