CHARLOTTE – Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s heart transplant team uses new technology to keep hearts viable while being transferred to waiting heart transplant recipients.

Called the TransMedics Organ Care System, this portable technology helps extend the length of time donated hearts are suitable for transplantation, making more donated hearts available to those in need.

“When a heart is removed from a donor who has died of cardiac death, the ambulatory system revives the heart and infuses it with blood from the donor supplemented with nutrients and oxygen to keep it beating,” said cardiothoracic Dr. Eric Skipper said heart transplant surgeon at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “The system also allows careful assessment of the functional quality of the heart and the survival rate of the transplant before going to the operating room to perform the transplant.”

According to Skipper, the TransMedics organ care system removes the time constraints of having to decline donated hearts. Previously, the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute transplant team could only accept donor hearts within a 500-mile radius. This is because the organ has her 4-hour refrigerated storage limit, which is exceeded by transit times between deceased donors and patients awaiting transplants in Charlotte. Now, with this new technology, hearts can survive up to 8 hours and can be received from up to 1,000 miles away, expanding the donor pool. It also enables the acceptance of higher-risk hearts, including hearts from older donors and those who are first on life support before treatment is discontinued.

The first patient to receive a donated heart preserved by the new technology at Atrium Health recently completed a transplant and is currently recovering in hospital.

“This was a patient who could be waiting for an organ transplant,” Skipper said. “But they were able to receive hearts very quickly because of the ability to utilize this technology.”

The Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute is the only transplant center in the Charlotte area currently using this technology. The transplant team utilized Atrium Health’s MedCenter Air to transport the team to and from the donor site.

Dr. Joseph Mishkin, Advanced Heart Failure Transplant Cardiologist, Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, said: “We can now accept organs from donors who have suffered irreversible brain damage but have not met the criteria for formal brain death. In these cases, families decide to discontinue care. Donor organs can be life-saving gifts to others.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, more than 3,300 people are on waiting lists for heart transplants nationwide, 95 of them in North Carolina.

“We are facing a shortage of organ donations nationwide,” Mishkin said. “I expect this technology to transform the transplant industry, increase the country’s donor supply, and help more patients in need of transplants.”


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