Barbara Walters to Have Heart Valve Replaced

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Barbara Walters, 80, announced this morning on “The View” that she would be taking some time off from the show to have surgery to replace a faulty heart valve. She stated that she would be out for about three months and would come “roaring back” in September.

Walters told viewers, "Lots of people have done this and I have known of this condition for a while now and my doctors and I have decided that this is the best time to do the surgery."

The heart has four valves which direct the flow of blood through the heart in one direction.

People with damaged heart valves which either do not open all the way or do not close properly have problems with the blood flow through the heart’s chambers. For example, if the valve does not open completely, less blood moves into the neighboring heart chamber. This usually occurs as a result of hardening or stiffening of the valve, called stenosis.

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When a valve does not close tightly, the blood may leak backward into the chamber causing the heart to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. This is called insufficiency or regurgitation.

Operations to replace poorly functioning heart valves are common procedures, per the American Heart Association. In the United States, surgeons perform about 99,000 heart valve operations each year. Replacements are made using human heart valves, porcine valves (from pigs), bovine valves (from cows), or by creating a mechanical prosthetic.

A cardiologist best determines which valve is right for the patient. Advantages of mechanical valves are that they are durable and designed to last a lifetime. The disadvantage is that the patient must take blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin for the rest of their lives to prevent clots from forming on the valve, causing heart attack or stroke. Biologic valves do not require anticoagulation, but they are not as durable and usually need to be replaced after about 10 years.

The surgery is performed by creating incisions first in the chest and then in the heart or aorta. The damaged portion is either repaired or surgically removed and replaced. During the surgery the heart is stopped, and blood is flowed through a heart-lung machine.

In a note to staff, ABC News president David Westin writes, "As those of us who work with Barbara know, she's in excellent condition. So, we have every reason to expect a great result and a speedy recovery."

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