Historically, such operations have relied upon the donation of a heart from a person that has been declared “brain dead,” but whose heart continues to function. This specific set of criteria has meant that demand for the procedure has vastly outstripped supply. Now, however, the achievement of the transplant team at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, U.K, has potentially increased the number of viable heart transplant opportunities in the country by as much as 25 percent.
The recipient of this ground-breaking procedure, 60-year-old Huseyin Ulucan, has experienced a significant deterioration in his health since suffering a heart attack in 2008. Speaking to BBC News, he explained the positive impact his heart transplant has had on the quality of his life.
“Before the surgery, I could barely walk and I got out of breath very easily – I really had no quality of life.
“Now I’m feeling much stronger every day, and I walked into the hospital this morning without any problem.”
The organ used for Mr. Ulucan’s heart transplant was donated by a patient whose heart and lungs had ceased to function, resulting in death. The procedure involved re-starting the heart after clinical death, by restoring a blood supply. Once function was properly re-established and verified, the organ was removed, and its viability sustained by a “heart-in-a-box” machine until such time as transplantation was possible.
Addressing the press, cardiothoracic transplant registrar Simon Messer explained that this recent surgical achievement in heart transplant techniques was made possible by research undertaken by Papworth Hospital.
“Using techniques developed to recover the abdominal organs in non-heart beating donors, we wanted to apply similar techniques to hearts from these donors.
“Until this point, we were only able to transplant organs from DBD (donation after brain-stem death) donors. However, research conducted at Papworth allowed us to develop a new technique not used anywhere else in the world to ensure the best possible outcome for our patients, using hearts from non-beating heart donors.”
James Neuberger, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, praised the heart transplant achievement while speaking to the Guardian, and emphasised the important contribution made by the families of those whose organ donation had led to this life-saving development.
“Sadly, there is a shortage of organs for transplant across the U.K and patients die in need of an organ. We hope Papworth’s work, and similar work being developed elsewhere, will result in more hearts being donated and more patients benefitting from a transplant in the future.
“We are immensely grateful to the donor’s family and we hope they are taking great comfort in knowing that their relative’s organs have saved lives and have also made an important contribution to heart transplantation in the U.K. We also shouldn’t forget the donor families who helped pave the way for the hospital’s recent landmark transplantation.”
While transplant surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney confirmed in October 2014 that they had successfully transplanted three hearts that had stopped beating for 20 minutes, the heart transplant operation completed at Papworth is the first of its kind in Europe, and involved some different techniques.
[Image: Handout/Getty Images]