How a little box saves hearts and lives

CHICAGO (WGN) — Seventy percent of donor hearts go unused each year. That means people in need never get the life-saving organ, and people who donated so generously never get a chance to have their gift of life after death recognized.

With a new device, doctors are now breaking through the biggest hurdles in heart transplantation.

“From the removal of the organ to the implantation in the recipient, we usually have about four hours,” said Dr. Jane Wilcox, director of heart failure treatment and recovery at Northwestern Medicine, on standard hypothermic procedures that limit organ viability.

Enter the Transmedics Organ Care System – or the “heart in a box” as it is also known.

“You can then put this organ on top of this ‘heart in a box,’ and the box contains the donor’s blood and it’s sort of perfusing and pumping the heart,” Wilcox said.

The portable box, which looks a bit like a Tupperware container, has high-tech capabilities.

“It’s several steps above the Igloo cooler because it really simulates what the body is like in terms of temperature and environment,” Wilcox said. “It is perfused with blood and not with a solution. This gives us more time, more than double the time we would have for a typical window to perform a transplant.”

This device can also give doctors the opportunity to examine the organ in action.

“It’s a very fancy, sophisticated perfusion system,” Wilcox said. “It’s just crazy to see this heart beating in a box. And you can assess all the important features that we consider before transplantation.”

All of this opens the door for more donor hearts to be considered as transplant options. Instead of just picking hearts from people who are brain dead, the new system revives a stopped heart.

“This ‘heart in a box’ really breaks down those barriers to using more organs,” Wilcox said.

It’s a first for Illinois surgeons at Northwestern Medicine’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute.

“So excited, so grateful, so honored,” Wilcox said. “It’s just wonderful to be part of a great team and to see our patient who has waited a long time and was really excited to be part of this process is the icing on the cake.”

Jerry Dorsey, 55, is thrilled to be part of the story and grateful for the gift of a heart.

“You want that silver lining, if you die for whatever reason, you can give hope and give life to another person,” Dorsey said. “We all want to feel useful.”

It is estimated that the Heart in a Box device will increase the number of hearts available for transplant by 30%.

https://wgntv.com/news/nexstar-media-wire/how-a-little-box-is-preserving-hearts-and-saving-lives/ How a little box saves hearts and lives

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