NATIONAL (WIS) - Traditionally, a donor heart can be kept cold for up to six hours until it is transplanted. But the longer the heart goes without oxygen, the greater the risk for damage and potential for rejection.
But a new system looks to extend the life of a heart.
Now there is a new exciting advance in transplant technology. It's a new technology called the Organ Care System, which keeps the heart beating with oxygenated blood during transport.
Richard Jackson and his wife have the luxury of time to enjoy a beautiful day, thanks to a first-of-its-kind heart transplant.
"It was getting worse. I was running out of breath when I walked very far, walked up steps," Jackson said.
Damage from a heart attack landed Richard on the transplant list. But when the call finally came, "I wasn't looking forward to getting broke open," says Jackson.
Richard was about to become the first us patient to have a "beating heart" transplant.
"It's quite impressive, and a little surreal sometimes, to see the heart beating in this box," says Dr. Kenneth R. McCurry.
McCurry led the university of Pittsburgh Medical Center team in this landmark surgery. He says the Transmedics organ care system keeps the heart in a near-ideal state.
"So the whole idea is to replicate the normal physiologic state and to reduce this ischemic time, this cold ischemic time, or the time that the heart is without oxygen," McCurry said.
In current care, the heart is removed from the donor and cooled to about 50 degrees, risking tissue damage and upping the risk for rejection. With the new beating heart option, the organ is kept warm and functioning.
"A better way of preserving the routine organs, so that hearts would function better, be less injured," says McCurry.
The Transmedics device cradles the donor heart in a windowed compartment.
"So the blood goes into the heart, which is sitting in here, and beats inside this sterile chamber, so the heart is kept sterile all of the time," McCurry says.
And while it beats, it carries oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients, and gives surgeons a bird's eye view of the heart's health.
"The device also allows us to sort of continually assess the heart to be sure that it's doing what we want it to do and that metabolically, it's okay," says McCurry.
And now for Richard, that pre-transplant view of the donor heart means that his own beat goes on.
Doctor McCurry says the Transmedics organ care system also has the potential to evaluate, and even improve, so-called "marginal" hearts which could significantly increase the number of hearts approved for transplants.