While heart transplant surgeries have saved numerous lives, far more lives could be saved if there were just as many organs available as people in need of heart transplants. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Most patients will spend time on a transplant waiting list, and many will never find a suitable match. In fact, some 40 percent of children in the UK waiting for a heart transplant do not find a suitable match in time.
As grim as this fact is, there is hope thanks to a new machine that “reanimates” stopped hearts, which could dramatically increase the number of donor organs available to children.
Typically, all donor hearts come from people who have experienced brain-stem death, meaning they no longer had any brain function but had machines keeping their bodies alive. That means people who experienced cardiac arrest weren’t considered donors. But thanks to this new machine—colloquially referred to as the “heart in a box”—it is now possible to bring stopped hearts temporarily back to life by pumping blood, nutrients, and oxygen through them for 12 hours. In those 12 hours, doctors can tell if the heart is in good enough condition for transplantation, and can even treat the heart with meds if necessary to make a transplant more viable.
The “heart in a box” was produced by TransMedics and has been used to reanimate hearts that were used in transplants for adult patients, but never has the machine been used for pediatric patients—until recently.
As reported by FreeThink, six patients between the ages of 12 and 16 have received transplanted hearts that were first placed in the “heart in a box” machine. Each one of the patients had positive outcomes, and they could even leave the hospital to go home after an average of 13.5 days, which is about 50 percent faster than average.
“Five days after the transplant, Anna was walking up and down the corridors chatting away and high-fiving staff,” said Andrew Hadley, speaking about his daughter, who was the first of the six children to receive a new heart through the program. “It was incredible.”
It is a true testament to just how far medical technology has come that we are now able to bring stopped hearts back to life and use them to save children. When you read something like this, you truly feel the limits of medical technology are boundless.