Traditionally, hearts are recovered after donors’ brains cease to function, said Dr. Marian Urban, the cardiothoracic surgeon at the medical center who led the effort to offer the new procedure. Machines keep the lungs and heart going until the organs can be recovered for transplant.
The newer type of transplant, called donation after circulatory death, involves connecting donors whose hearts have stopped beating to machines that restore circulation to the heart and other organs while they’re inside the body.
Urban said this typically occurs after donors have suffered a critical injury or illness and family members, after discussions with doctors, have decided to withdraw further care.
Doctors at the medical center, like those at transplant centers around the world, have used the method to recover other organs, including kidneys and livers, for some time.
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But the method’s use in the heart is cutting-edge, Lowes said. Historically, once a heart stopped, it could not be recovered. Many patients who need hearts spend years on transplant lists, and many die while waiting.
“This is opening up a whole new opportunity for heart transplantation for patients,” Lowes said.
Urban said he believes that the procedure has been performed fewer than 10 times in the U.S. He’s aware of seven such heart transplants performed at New York University and one at Vanderbilt University. The procedure has also been used in Europe.
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