High-tech heart hub - Penza

­The Russian town of Penza has become a high-tech hub within its rich heritage. It is also home to a unique heart valve factory, saving people’s lives around the world every day

The factory’s products have become so successful that they are now being exported to more than 20 countries around the world.   

RT’s Igor Ogorodnev has been allowed to witness a life-saving operation in which doctors sewed in an artificial valve that will allow the patient’s heart to function again.

The construction of the deceptively simple mechanism will determine how he lives the rest of his life, and if he will survive at all.

Twenty years ago, all these valves had to be imported from abroad. Then the heart valve company opened in Penza.

Originally it was meant to be a huge plant, producing hard disks for Soviet-made PCs, but when the USSR collapsed there was no need for Soviet-made computers, so they took the empty shell of a building, and turned it into something else – by far Russia's biggest producer of artificial heart valves.

Started by a single Russian physicist, MedInc sprung up without government support.

None of the small team of inventors had worked with a medical-equipment manufacturer before.

Now, seven in 10 valves implanted in Russian hearts are made there.

It may look like an over-expanded workshop, but the quality of its products has allowed this company to supply them internationally. Though they know that success can be fleeting.

“We know we've had our successful invention, but technology moves on,” Vasiliy Tolin, deputy production manager told RT. “We are small compared to our international rivals, and so we know we have to keep making new models just to survive.”

Unusually for Russia, every new model was developed together with Penza's local heart center.

But doctors there admit that at first there was skepticism about a Russian-made piece of medical equipment.

“Doctors are very conservative by nature, and at first they – and the patients – were mistrustful of the valves,” Vladlen Bazylev, a chief doctor at Penza Federal Cardiology Center told RT. “To make people try something new on themselves was difficult. But I'll tell you this – 20 years ago, up to one in five used to die during this surgery, now the figure is around one per cent.”

The surgery at which Ogorodnev was present was successful.

The patient, Sergey Anachenko – a retired army officer – will be discharged within a week.

“I look forward to the rest of my life now,” he vows. “I can feel the cuts, but I feel my heart working better. As to the valve – I researched everywhere on the internet about it, and it is fine. I trust the valve that is inside my heart.”