FLINT (WWJ/AP) – A medical examiner’s office in Michigan plans to collect heart valves during autopsies for use in transplants as part of an effort to increase the availability of such tissue for donation.

The procedure is expected to be part of autopsies in Genesee County within the coming months, The Flint Journal reported.

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Brian Hunter, county medical examiner and forensic pathologist, said he believes those conducting autopsies can determine the cause of death while facilitating donations. He has worked for years with Gift of Life Michigan, an organ and tissue donation program.

“Every person’s death, there’s opportunities to learn about their life, their health. And with tissue donation, there’s opportunities to give life to other people, to improve other people’s lives,” Hunter said.

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In the past, if a heart was donated it wasn’t available to Hunter or his staff to examine. And if an autopsy was conducted, the heart would be contaminated by the procedure and tissue such as heart valves wouldn’t be available for donation.

Hunter’s staff plans to use sterile autopsy procedures so that the valves will be acceptable for transplant, and he’ll evaluate how the process works. Heart tissue would be collected only if the dead person was a registered donor or if the family gave permission.

“The need is great. We are extremely fortunate to have someone like Dr. Hunter that wants to find a way to preserve (the heart valves) … It really is an innovative program,” said Bruce Nicely, clinical director of tissue for Gift of Life Michigan.

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