Heart Transplant from a Dead Donor

heart transplant with a new device

Heart in a box device


Doctors at St. Vincent’s hospital have for the first time performed a heart transplant with a heart harvested after the death of the donor. Meaning doctors effectively transplanted “dead” hearts into organ recipients.

The normal process in transplantation surgery is to remove still beating hearts from brain-dead patients that are organ donors. Doctors have believed that this approach is the best chance for a transplant to succeed up until now. Now it seems as though a paradigm shift in transplant surgery have taken place that might lead to saving the lives of 30% more heart transplant patients.

A “Heart in a Box” Makes Heart Transplants After Death Possible

This discovery involves a new device, “a heart in a box”. Instead of harvesting an organ and keeping it on ice until it’s transported to surgery, it’s kept in a box. In this box connection of the heart to a sterile circuit enables it to stay both warm and keep beating. The remarkable detail here is that the hearts used in these three surgeries were all from donors dead for a full 20 minutes.

The “heart in the box” approach enables doctors to preserve heart transplants and get them beating again, making it possible to assess any damage to the organs. Three surgeries have been undertaken, two being a success where the patients are still recovering and one is still in intensive care at St. Vincents hospital in Australia.

This paradigm shift, of  using “dead” hearts as transplant,  will result in more people who desperately needs a new organ also being able to get it. Overcoming a small thing like death means that more hearts will be eligible  for use in a heart transplant.

The heart in the box analogy somehow brings this to mind.

Image credit: Dean Lewins/AAP Image.