Doctors in Sydney transplant 'dead heart'

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In a world first, doctors at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital have restarted a heart that had stopped beating and transplanted it, giving hope that heart transplants may now become more acceptable to some ethnic cultures.

Researchers say it's the biggest heart transplant breakthrough in a decade, with huge implications for reducing donor organ shortages.

Harry Gribilar says he's forever grateful for the gift of life Sydney doctors gave his wife Michelle.

“It was awful before, but now I'm very happy," he says.

The 57-year-old grandmother is the first person in the world to receive a transplant heart that was re-started, after it stopped beating.

"This approach to donation where the heart has stopped beating will be a lot more acceptable. We think it will actually enhance donation in those countries heart transplantation in most Asian countries is actually a rare event."

Professor Peter MacDonald from St Vincent's Hospital Heart Lung Transplant Unit says the work is ground-breaking.

"Up until now no-one's attempted to recover hearts from these donors to transplant them. In some other jurisdictions in the UK for instance about 40 per cent of their donors are DCD donors so we think it has enormous potential impact," he says.

Before the operation, Michelle couldn't walk 100 metres, now she says she walks three kilometres and climbs 100 steps every day.

"I cook at home I do everything at home it's amazing I'm a different person altogether I feel like I'm 40 years old," Michelle says.

St Vincent's Hospital has so far transplanted three hearts, one to Michelle, who had congenital heart failure, and 40-year-old Jan Damen, who had surgery only a fortnight ago.

"I never thought I'd be that privileged to wear St Vincent's jarmies but it's been good I'm just looking forward to getting back out in the real world," he says.

Another recipient is recovering.

Previously transplant units relied solely on donor hearts from brain dead patients, whose hearts were still beating.

A special preservation solution was developed by researchers from St Vincent's Hospital and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research to work with a 'heart in the box' machine.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Kumud Dhital says this allows an extension of at least 10 minutes, to the 20-minute window when a donor heart is deemed "transplantable".

"That buys us a bit of time because the heart is not completely still but it has been washed out of all those horrible things that are in there. And then when it's still we then instrument it on the machine at which point blood is flowing through it all the nutrients are flowing through it the heart just needs going into it and if it's a good working heart it will work, " he says.

Doctors think transplant rates will jump by up to 30 per cent.

People from Asian communities are three to four times more likely than the general population to need an organ transplant.

Despite common myths and misconceptions, Professor MacDonald says say there are no religious or ethical implications involved with the procedure.

"This approach to donation where the heart has stopped beating will be a lot more acceptable. We think it will actually enhance donation in those countries heart transplantation in most Asian countries is actually a rare event,” he says.

But for now,  Australian transplant units are celebrating.

Source SBS

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