BOSTON – For the first time since its first heart transplant was completed in 1985, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on Friday, March 10 successfully completed a heart transplant for a Jehovah’s Witness patient while using no outside blood products. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow their congregants to receive blood from another human being, and prohibit their blood from leaving their body, but the medical and surgical teams within the MGH Heart Transplant Program came up with an innovative solution to perform the transplant while respecting the patient’s beliefs.

The patient, Fay Reid-Mensah of Natick, Mass. long suffered from congestive heart failure and was in desperate need of a heart transplant, so her daughter relocated her to Natick from the Bronx, N.Y. to receive care at MGH. Under the guidance of her heart failure cardiologist Dan Zlotoff, MD, PhD, as well as Greg Lewis, MD, Medical Director, Cardiac Transplantation Program, and David D’Alessandro, MD, Surgical Director, Cardiac Transplantion Program, Reid-Mensah received her new heart with minimal side effects.

“The majority of transplant centers around the world have never done this before because they recognize the need to support the patient with blood products not just during the operation, but often before and after the operation as well. However, our team feels an obligation to explore all possible ways to help patients in need of life-saving organ transplantation,” Dr. Lewis said.

Once the MGH transplant committee approved the procedure, the Heart Transplant Program accommodated Reid-Mensah’s requests. In order to stay in accordance with Reid-Mensah’s beliefs, prior to the transplant she received treatment with a combination of intravenous iron and erythropoietin -- a hormone naturally produced by the kidneys that stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow.  This approach boosted her red blood cell count.  In addition, to preserve her blood count the team performed minimal blood draws in the period leading up to transplant despite her critical illness.

During the procedure, Reid-Mensah’s blood cycled within her body maintained by an IV connection. During traditional heart transplant procedures, the patient’s blood is re-introduced into the body after running through a heart-lung bypass machine.

“Not every program can do this. Meticulous attention to detail before, during, and after surgery is required. So I think being able to perform a heart transplant in this manner is the marker of a really good team. I’m so proud of the Heart Transplant Program for being able to give this patient the gift of life because MGH does not deny someone a transplant just because of their belief system,” Dr. D’Alessandro said.

Reid-Mensah recovered well at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and is now home. She is incredibly grateful to the Heart Transplant Program for respecting her beliefs while providing her with the chance to return to a healthy life.

"Dr. D’Alessandro, Dr. Zlotoff, Dr. Lewis, they’re all amazing doctors. I’m so happy that they were able to give me a new heart, and amazingly, I’m not even in any pain after the surgery,” she said.

About the Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The Mass General Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with annual research operations of more than $1 billion and comprises more than 9,500 researchers working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments. In July 2022, Mass General was named #8 in the U.S. News & World Report list of "America’s Best Hospitals." MGH is a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system.