New Transplant Procedure Never Misses a Beat0

Andrea Ybarra is part of a small, unique group who share one very special thing in common: they all received a “beating heart” transplant. Mostly done in Europe, this special procedure places the donor heart in a special box that keeps it warm and “alive” (i.e., beating) outside the human body. “I felt peaceful when I woke up. I wasn’t scared,” said the patient. “It felt like the heart was a part of me all the time.”

For over four decades, since 1967, heart transplant technology has been limited to organ recovery teams using ice coolers and airplanes to race between donor and recipient locations. These teams simply inject a chemical into the heart so it stops, and the ice preserves its integrity for about 4 to 6 hours at best. Indeed, the longer the process takes from start to finish, the greater the recipient’s changes of death or heart disease.

The new technology allows the heart continue circulating blood while in transit, outside the body but inside the box. If successful, this new technology could revolutionize heart transplant medicine. “The rush factor will be taken out. I can go all the way to the West Coast to get a heart,” said Dr. Bruce Rosengard of Massachusetts General Hospital. At the same time, it may ease the shortage of viable organs for transplant. Last year, 359 patients died waiting for a heart.

About 100 patients, mostly in Europe, have had such a procedure, with large-scale success. “It’s very difficult to remedy their anxiety. But when you think about it, the human heart was never meant to be in a cooler on ice,” said lead investigator Dr. Abbas Ardehali of UCLA. [audio:|titles=Cheated Hearts]


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