This case was different, however, and the heart came from a donor whose heart and lungs had ceased functioning, which is known as circulatory death, BBC News reports.
London resident Huseyin Ulucan, 60, received the donor heart at Papworth Hospital. He’d suffered a heart attack in 2008.
“Before the surgery, I could barely walk and I got out of breath very easily. I really had no quality of life,” he told BBC News, adding that he was “delighted” with the improvement of his health since the transplant.
“Now I’m feeling stronger every day, and I walked into the hospital this morning without any problem,” he said.
Most remarkably, Ulucan was only in the hospital for four days.
“This is a phenomenal achievement,” Simon Messer, a cardiothoracic transplant registrar at the hospital, told The Guardian. “People who previously would not get a heart transplant will now be able to have them.”
“Until this point we were only able to transplant organs from DBD (donation after brain-stem death) donors, Messer said, per The Huffington Post. “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.”
The operation was led by consultant surgeon Stephen Large, and this work means more hearts can potentially be used to save patients’ lives.
“The use of this group of donor hearts could increase heart transplantation by up to 25 percent in the UK alone” Large said.
The revolutionary surgery involved the use of new techniques to restart the non-beating heart inside the donor just minutes after death, and then monitor the heart’s function to ensure that it was in good enough condition to transplant.
Using ultrasound, doctors assessed the function of the restarted heart for 50 minutes before approving the organ for transplantation. Then they removed it from the donor, placing it in an “organ care system,” also called a heart-in-a-box machine.” The machine perfused the organ with blood and nutrients, keeping it beating for three hours until the operation proceeded.
At least 250 patients in Britain are on a waiting list for heart transplants, and there are about 900,000 people in the UK living with heart failure, the British Heart Foundation reports, per The Guardian.
“Currently patients can wait over three years for a heart transplant. But less than half of the people on the waiting list will be transplanted,” Messer said. “About 13 percent die while they are waiting, and around 30 percent are removed from the list, because they become too unwell to have the operation.”
“Significant research has gone into finding new, safe ways to increase the number of lives we save using heart transplantation,” Large said, per The Huffington Post.
“This is a very exciting development. By enabling the safe use of this kind of donor hearts, we could significantly increase the total number of heart transplants each year, saving hundreds of lives.”
Doctors at several other specialist heart transplant centers throughout the UK are expected to adopt the procedure soon. In Australia last year, doctors performed the world’s first non-beating heart transplant using similar procedures.
“Sadly there is a shortage of organs for transplant across the UK and patients die in need of an organ,” James Neuberger, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant said. “We hope Papworth’s work and similar work being developed elsewhere will result in more hearts being donated and more patients benefiting 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 UK. We also shouldn’t forget the donor families who helped pave the way for the hospital’s recent landmark transplantation.”
For so many people in the UK, this is a much-needed bit of good news.