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Dead Heart Transplanted into Patients in Huge Medical Breakthrough

The world-first procedure, which uses hearts that are no longer beating, will allow more lives to be saved. Previously, the hearts used for transplants were beating and from brain-dead patients.

Doctors at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute announced on Friday they had performed the operation on three patients using hearts that had stopped beating for 20 minutes.

“The donor heart wasn’t beating for up to 20 minutes before it was resuscitated and successfully transplanted,” the Institute said in a statement. “This represents a paradigm shift in organ donation and will result in a major increase in the pool of hearts available for transplantation.”

Victor Chang Institute Executive Director Professor Bob Graham told ABC, the new procedure could save up to 30% more people.

“What happens is we have a patient whose brain is almost completely gone, but they still have a little bit of brain function so they can’t be classified as being dead,” he said. “And if the relatives agree we can turn off the life support. And when we do that the heart gradually stops beating over about fifteen minutes. We then by law have to wait another five minutes to make sure the heart has really stopped.”

Once the heart is no longer beating, it is removed from the deceased person and submerged in a preservation solution, which was developed by hospital researchers over a 12-year period. The heart was then placed in a console, known as “heart in a box”, to make it start beating again.

“Then we can take the heart out and we can put it on a console where we connect it up with blood going through the heart and providing oxygen. Gradually the heart starts beating again. And we also give it a preservation solution that allows it to be more resistant to the damage of lack of oxygen,” Graham said.

The console and preservation solution working together “like a perfect storm” have allowed for this ground-breaking procedure to take place, Graham said.

The first successful transplant was performed a couple of months ago on 57-year-old grandmother Michelle Gribilas, who was bedridden before the surgery. The second patient, 44-year-old father of three girls Jan Damen had the surgery two weeks ago. He has also made a full recovery. Another patient had the surgery more recently and is still recovering, the hospital advised.

Gribilas said at a press conference: “I was very sick. Now I feel like a different person. I walk 3 kilometres a day.”

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