Surgeons in Australia have completed a remarkable procedure: they’ve successfully transplanted a heart that had stopped beating.
In a typical scenario a beating heart is taken from someone who has suffered a catastrophic brain injury and is deemed ‘brain dead’. These hearts are then kept on ice for a maximum of four hours before being transplated into a patient.
But a surgical team at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney recently used a different approach. They employed a “heart-in-the-box” machine to essentially revive a heart that had stopped beating prior to surgery. The machine warms the heart, restoring the heartbeat before flooding the organ with a nourishing fluid designed to limit muscle damage.
The heart-in-a-box surgery was first performed two months ago on 57-year-old Michelle Gribilas, who was suffering from congenital heart failure. Fast forward sixty days and Gribilas says she feels like “a different person altogether.”
“I feel like I’m forty years old,” Gribilas said. “I’m very lucky.”
Professor Peter MacDonald, head of St Vincent’s heart transplant team, says two other surgeries have involved using the heart-in-a-box machine to successfully transplant ‘dead’ hearts.
“This breakthrough represents a major inroad to reducing the shortage of donor organs,” MacDonald said.
It’s believed that, by increasing the number of hearts available to patients, the heart-in-a-box machine could save up to 30 per cent more lives.
That’s why British Heart Foundation nurse Maureen Talbot sees the device as a huge breakthrough in treating heart disease. “It is wonderful to see these people recovering so well from heart transplantation when, without this development, they may still be waiting for a donor heart,” Talbot said.