In a major breakthrough, a team of doctors, including an Indian-origin surgeon, on Friday said they had successfully performed the world’s first heart transplant in Australia using a “dead heart”, a development that could save many lives.
The procedure, using hearts that had stopped beating, has been described as a “paradigm shift” that will herald a major increase in the pool of hearts available for transplantation.
It is predicted that the breakthrough will save the lives of 30% more heart transplant patients. Until now, transplant units have relied solely on still-beating donor hearts from brain-dead patients.
But the team at the lung transplant unit of St Vincent’s Hospital here announced they had conducted transplants on three heart-failure patients using donor hearts that had stopped beating for 20 minutes.
The first patient who received such a heart, Michelle Gribilas, 57, said she felt a decade younger and was now a “different person”. Gribilas had been suffering from congenital heart failure.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Kumud Dhital, who performed the transplants with hearts donated after circulatory death (DCD), said he “kicked the air” when the first surgery was successful.
It was possible thanks to the new technology, he said. “The incredible development of the preservation solution with this technology of being able to preserve the heart, resuscitate it and to assess the function of the heart has made this possible,” he said.
The heart has been the only organ that is not used after it has stopped beating — known as donation after circulatory death. Beating hearts are normally taken from brain-dead people, kept on ice for around four hours and then transplanted to patients.
The technique used in Sydney involved taking a heart that had stopped beating and reviving it in a machine known as a “heart-in-a-box”. The heart is kept warm, heartbeat is restored and a nourishing fluid helps reduce damage to the heart muscle.