NHS doctors in 'world first' transplant using previously stopped heart

‘World first’ as NHS doctors transplant hearts in children using organs brought back to life by ground-breaking machine that replicates conditions inside human body

  • Heart donors are usually people who are brain-dead but have a beating heart
  • But doctors have managed to revive a stopped heart and use it in a transplant
  • Doctors at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire used a special machine
  • The heart-in-a-box machine is used to replicate the conditions of a human body 
  • The surgery could drastically increase the number of heart transplants possible 

NHS doctors have reportedly become the first in the world to successfully transplant a heart that has previously stopped into a child patient.

Surgeons have historically used hearts from brain-dead patients – someone whose heart is still beating but is unable to survive without artificial life support – in transplants.

But, in a move which could hugely increase availability of donor organs, doctors have for the first time transplanted hearts which have previously stopped into teenage patients.   

Doctors from the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire used a groundbreaking new machine to make the heart starting beating again.

The machine works by replicating the conditions inside a human body.

Six patients – aged between 12 and 16 – have so far benefited from the groundbreaking technique, reports the Sunday Times. 

Doctors from the Royal Papworth Hospital (pictured: The Cambridge Biomedical Campus which includes Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Royal Papworth Hospital) in Cambridgeshire used a groundbreaking new machine to make the heart starting beating again

The first patient to benefit from the procedure was Anna Hadley, now 16, from Worcester, who had waited almost two years for her heart transplant.

Anna, who told the paper she is now able to play hockey again since her transplant, said: ‘I just feel normal again. There’s nothing I cannot do now.’

Freya Heddington, 14, from Bristol, was also among the first to receive a transplant.

She told the BBC: ‘I now have more stamina. I can go out for long walks and climb hills and I don’t need to stop for breathers.

‘I am ecstatic that I got such an amazing gift, but it’s upsetting to know that someone also died.’

Donated hearts have historically come from people who are brain-dead but whose hearts are still beating. 

Brain death, also known as brain stem death, is when a person on an artificial life support machine no longer has any brain functions. 

Their heart still beats through help from life support, keeping their body and organs intact. 

Such patients are particularly key for organ transplants, as, if they are a donor, and their family does not object, their organs can usually be used to help save the lives of others.

Non-heart-beating donation has previously deemed unsuitable for transplantation due to the damage sustained from oxygen deprivation when the heart stops. 

But this has limited the scope for the number of transplants possible.

However in the groundbreaking new transplant, doctors used a heart-in-a-box machine called the Organ Care System to bring hearts back to life once removed from the donor.

The machine works by replicating the conditions of the human body.

Once a defibrillation pulse is used to start the hearts beating again, they are kept warm and have 1.5 litres of the donor’s blood pumped through them in a cycle, and receive nutrients.

Doctors are also able to regulate the heart rate by remote control if necessary.

The hearts have then been flown to London for transplanting at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Sunday Times reported.

The revived hearts have then been flown to London for transplanting at Great Ormond Street Hospital (pictured) in London, the Sunday Times reported

The technique had been tried in adults before, but has for the first time been used in children – all of whom had life-threatening conditions.

On average, children have to wait two-and-a-half times longer than adults for hearts to become available.

The breakthrough is expected to allow a substantial expansion in the number of donor hearts available, reduce post-operation complications, speed recoveries, increase transplant survival rates and save hundreds of lives, the paper says. 

Dr John Forsythe, medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: ‘This new technique will save lives both here and around the world.

‘It means people can donate their hearts where it wouldn’t have been possible in the past, giving life to patients on the waiting list.’

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