Image Credit: St. Vincent's Hospital

In an amazing medical breakthrough, doctors and scientists recently transplanted two hearts that were (circulatory) dead. Both hearts had stopped beating. Yet, scientists were still able to successfully transplant them into patients. The operation was preformed at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Notably, both patients have a bright outlook and are recovering well.

The reason that these operations are so important is, currently, "alive" donor hearts are the only organs that can be used for heart transplants. This means that they must be taken from brain dead patients whose hearts are still beating. Obviously, there are very few people at any given time who are in this brain dead state, so it greatly limits the number of hearts available for transplant.

Amazingly, the hearts that were used in these breakthrough transplants had been dead for at least 20 minutes. They were successfully revived using a ground-breaking preservation fluid, before being transplanted into patients with heart failure.

Bob Graham, the executive director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, who led the research team, told reporters that this will mean around 30 percent more people will be able to have heart transplants.

Michelle Gribilar, who is currently 57 years-old, had the first transplant of this kind a few months ago. She is well on her way to recovery. The second recipient is Jan Damen; she had the surgery a few weeks ago, and she is also recovering as doctors had hoped. Both had suffered congenital heart failure.

The scientists developed a special preservation solution that works on a “heart in a box” to keep the dead heart healthy even without blood flow.

Doctor's who preformed this procedure explained how the breakthrough works:

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 can keep it warm and we can transport it on this console and we also give it a preservation solution that allows it to be more resistant to the damage of lack of oxygen. So those two things coming together almost like a perfect storm have allowed this sort of donation, this sort of transplantation of a heart that has stopped beating to occur. Before that it wasn't possible.

Of course, this procedure won't save the life of everyone who has heart problems, but it will save many many lives.

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