'Heart in a Box' Medical Advancement Speeds up Donor and Transplant Process to Save More Lives

Mayo Clinic in Arizona is bringing a life-changing medical advancement to its patients through a change in the heart donation and transplant process.

Previously, hearts can only be taken from the donor following brain death – now someone can die, in the traditional sense, known as natural circulatory death – and still donate.

On Nov. 16, Mayo Clinic in Arizona was able to celebrate a first in this practice and transplanted a heart into a patient following the natural circulatory death of the donor.

"Mayo Clinic is the only one in Arizona to have used this new ‘heart in a box’ technology," the hospital said.

With this advancement, donors will be able to give the gift of life much sooner than before. Thousands of people are awaiting heart transplants and sadly, many do die while waiting.

There are more than 106,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, says the Health Resources & Services Administration. 83% of those people are waiting for a kidney, but of course, the need for a donated heart is just as important.

The age range most in demand for a transplant is from 50-64.

So, who received the donation? 

A 68-year-old husband, father and grandfather who lives in Lake Havasu.

"Mr. Jeff Robinson says he looks forward to celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary and traveling with family to his favorite places in Utah and Williams, Ariz.," the hospital remarked.

On Nov. 15, Robinson was getting an oil change in Lake Havasu City, when he got a phone call from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

"I started crying, very emotional, very emotional," Robinson said.

Doctors called to tell him they found a match and he was finally getting a new heart. For the last 13 years, Robinson has suffered from heart failure. He’s had numerous surgeries, taken several medications, and had been waiting months on the transplant list.

Doctors told him they were trying a new method and he’d be the first Arizonan to do it.

"It's a second chance at life. I was going downhill for the last couple of months and I didn’t want to be that guy just sitting in a rocking chair for the next five years waiting, so I took a DCD, that’s probably the only reason why I got a heart so soon," Robinson said.

DCD means donation after circulatory death. Doctors will take the donated heart and revive it by pushing fresh blood through, and ultimately make it beat again using.

"Once the circulation is seized, all the organs begin to deteriorate quite rapidly so by being able to resuscitate the organ, put it in this ‘heart in a box’ so to speak, resuscitate it and assess how well the heart is functioning and how healthy it is from a metabolic standpoint, it allows us to utilize many more potential organs for the large volume of patients that require transplantation," says Dr. Patrick Devaleria said, a thoracic surgeon at Mayo Clinic.

Not only does it widen the donor pool, but it also helps preserve the hearts for much longer, extending the time between retrieval and transplant by 8 to 10 hours whereas originally that window was much smaller at 3 to 4 hours.

"To someone like Jeff, it’s a miracle because of his particular situation he was going to be waiting a long time for a traditional brain-dead donor and this gave him the opportunity by being willing to have this type of donor's heart offered to him to move up on the list," Devaleria said.

The Mayo Clinic in Arizona provides more solid organ transplants than any other hospital in the country. For hearts alone, they do between 40 and 50 per year.

"I think it may well double the number of potential donors that we can utilize, so it should definitely increase the number of heart transplants that we are able to safely do," Devaleria said.

Article by Fox10 Phoenix. 


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