Hufnagel’s Valve


Dr. Charles A. Hufnagel was born in Louisville, KY in 1917 and was a graduate of Harvard medical school where he studied organ transplantation [1].

Hufnagel, as head of the surgical research laboratory of the Georgetown University Medical Center, created the first artificial heart valve. However, this valve was inserted non-surgically and there were complications such as erosion of the aorta [2]. The first implantation of this was performed in a 30-year-old woman in 1952 [3].


Hufnagel’s invention was a small plastic tube with a plastic ball in the middle [4] which was  “implanted quickly into the descending aorta using a non-suture technique” [5] as there was no way at this time to maintain continuous blood flow to the body during surgery. Another drawback to this model, besides the mortality and cumbersome insertion, is that patients could hear the plastic ball bouncing around inside them, though sometimes it could be wrapped in Silicone to muffle it [6].

The manufacturer of Hufnagel’s Valve, The Brunswick Manufacturing Company, produced valves in four different sizes and were priced at $121, not counting surgical costs [7]. Made of surgical steel and nylon rings to keep the valve attached to the aorta, the sizes ranged from 3/4 of an inch to 1/8 of an inch [8].

Later, Hufangel went on to be a chair in the committee to evaluate President Nixon’s condition after pelvic surgery to see if he was well enough to testify in the Watergate hearings. It was due to this committee’s recommendations that Nixon never testified. [9]

He died in 1989 at the age of 72 holding the positions of professor emeritus at Georgetown, professor for George Washington University Hospital and professor at Uniformed Services University [10].



Dr. Charles Hufnagel






[Hufnagel picture source]

[valve picture source]

Leave a Reply