Friday, February 3, 2012

Matters of the heart

MGH first in New England to use new transplant technology

A SECOND CHANCE: DeStefano at the MGH following her surgery

Nationally, there are 2,000 heart transplants performed every year. That number could double or even quadruple within the next few years thanks to an innovative organ transportation device that recently benefitted MGH patient Amy DeStefano, 40, the first person in New England to receive a heart transplant employing the novel technology.

“What a truly life-changing experience and what an incredible team of health care providers,” says DeStefano, who has now returned to her home in Portsmouth, N.H. “I always felt they had my best interests in mind after 32 months of heart failure. I’m responding well to physical therapy, and although I know it’s going to take time, I’m on my way. I’m forever grateful to my donor and his or her family for giving me the opportunity to raise my two beautiful children and for second chances.”

The so-called “heart in a box” technology is vastly different from the traditional method of packing a donor heart on ice until transplantation. Instead, the portable Organ Care System – created by TransMedics, Inc. – delivers warm, oxygenated, nutrient-enriched blood to the heart after it is removed from a donor and monitors it while it continues to beat in a nearly normal state.

“It’s very innovative,” says Bruce Rosengard, MD, surgical director of Cardiac Transplantation, who performed DeStefano’s transplant. “We are really excited because there is tremendous promise for the future. The trial has found that the hearts have been preserved safely and effectively.”

HEART IN A BOX: The portable Organ Care System

The new technology slows a heart’s deterioration, which may allow for longer transport times in the future. Using current methods, four hours is the longest a heart can be sustained before it becomes unusable. “This limits us geographically and affects which organs we can use,” Rosengard says. “We hope to dramatically increase the number of transplants we will be able to perform.” 

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