Judging from a letter he sent the state Republican Party convention, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' heart valve operation didn't upset his sense of humor.

Helms sent the letter to the weekend convention in New Bern because he was in a Fairfax, Va., hospital recovering from heart surgery.

The state GOP covention was to have been the party's farewell to Helms, who retires in January after 30 years in office.

"I am getting adjusted to my new pig valve," Helms wrote. "I asked the surgeon if Lauch Faircloth donated it this time." Faircloth, a former Republican senator from Clinton, is a hog farmer.

Helms wrote that he was making progress and would soon leave the hospital for a rehab center.

"It's no piece of cake," Helms wrote, "but it sure beats listening to Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor."

The letter was read by keynote speaker Bob Dole, a former senator and presidential candidate and husband of GOP Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole.