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UW transplant team completes groundbreaking surgery


Last month, the UW Medicine transplant team completed the region’s first successful heart transplant from a donation-after-circulatory-death (DCD). The surgery was coordinated by LifeCenter Northwest, Washington’s designated organ procurement organization.

DCD organs are organs that have been retrieved “for the purposes of transplantation that follows death confirmed using circulatory criteria,” as per the National Library of Medicine. Circulatory criteria in this context means that a patient has both stopped breathing and circulating blood, and that neither heart nor lung function would restart on its own.

In the United States, only 496 transplants using DCD organs have been done as of August 2022. Roughly 2% of these surgeries were performed prior to 2020. The new type of surgery comes as the number of patients needing a transplant has skyrocketed in the last decade, while the amount of donor organs available has not been able to match the pace.

“The recovery of this DCD heart is incredibly impactful as it is taking us to the future state of donation,” Stacy McKean, director of organ procurement at LifeCenter Northwest, said. “Our team is excited to know that this is just the start of being able to save more lives.”

Surgeries such as this one have become possible due to recent technological advancements in organ preservation units. These organ care systems (OCS) keep the organ — in this case, a heart — functioning by providing critical nutrients and oxygen through fluids. The specific TransMedics machine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in April.

Dr. Maziar Khorsandi is a surgeon at UW Medicine who specializes in cardiac surgery as well as advanced heart failure and transplants. Khorsandi led the surgical team for the procedure.

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“The OCS allows us to measure markers of heart injury and function throughout the time that the heart is in the device,” Khorsandi said. “It gives us reassurance that a heart is in a good physiologic state before we transplant it.”

Earlier this month, the United Network for Organ Sharing announced that since the national United States organ donation system was created in 1984, a million organ transplants had been conducted. Of those, nearly 50,000 were performed in 2021 alone. While there is much optimism for the future of organ donations with these breakthroughs in technology and medicine, experts point out that organ donation is only possible with a donor.

“We are one step closer to realizing … a future where no one dies on the organ transplant waiting list,” Dominic Adorno, vice president of clinical operations at LifeCenter Northwest, said. “It is something we can’t do alone. None of these advancements in technology have meaning without the donor and the donor family.”

Reach News Editor Luke Amrine at Twitter: @amrine_luke

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