For the first time in the whole world, surgeons at St. Vincent's Hospital in Australia have successfully made a heart start beating again after its death for a successful transplant.
In what it termed as "the biggest heart transplant breakthrough in a decade," the success of the surgery will lead to massive implications on the reduction of the shortage of organs that are donated for transplants, said Heart Lung Transplant unit director of St. Vincent's Hospital Peter MacDonald.
In the past, transplant surgeons were only relying on hearts that were donated by brain dead patients, with hearts that were still alive and beating up to the point of surgery.
However, the surgeons at the hospital have recently been able to transplant two donated hearts that were no longer beating when they were being transplanted, termed as DCD or donated after circulatory death.
The two patients that received the heart transplants are currently recovering well after receiving the procedure.
The first patient to receive the breakthrough transplant procedure was 57-year-old Michelle Gribilar, who suffered from congenital heart failure. She received the transplant surgery a couple of months ago.
According to Gribilar, she now feels like she is only 40 years old. While she found it hard to walk 100 meters before the operation, now she can walk 3 kilometers and goes up 100 to 120 steps of stairs daily.
The second patient to receive the procedure was 40-year-old Jan Damen. He also had congenital heart failure and received the surgery a couple of weeks ago. Damen is still currently recovering at St. Vincent's.
The procedure for the transplant of dead hearts is the product of the combined efforts of the hospital and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
The research led to the development of a special preservation solution that works with a "heart in a box" device, which is also named the ex vivo organ care system.
The organ care system, or OCS, connects the donated heart to a sterile circuit that is able to restore the heart beat and keep the organ warm. This method limits the negative effects of packing the hearts in ice, which was used in previous procedures.
The solution keeps the heart animated and preserved while it is being assessed, and until the organ is ready to be transplanted to a waiting patient.
This breakthrough in being able to transplant DCD hearts means that many more hearts can be made available to patients requiring a heart transplant, especially as the technology is developed more.
The researcher team is still finding out how much time a heart has after DCD for it to be able to be revived. The team has so far revived hearts over 30 minutes after their death.