Doctors are making extraordinary strides when it comes to treating heart transplant patients, from the first ever pig-to-human heart transplant in Maryland to a new device being used in the Hudson Valley.
According to Dr. Masashi Kai, director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support program at Westchester Medical Center, the center became the first hospital in New York to procure a heart using the new TransMedics Organ Care System.
The transplant was successful and the patient, who is from Albany, is doing well, he said.
“Traditionally, when we do the heart transplant and go to the donor hospital and harvest the heart, and then put the heart in the icebox and then travel with the icebox to Westchester Medical Center to do the heart transplant … the problem with that is once you put the heart in the in the icebox, the heart's not beating,” Kai said, “and we don't know if the heart [can] function until you actually see the heart into the recipient chest.”
Dr. Kai said with the new technology, they are able to keep the heart pumping instead of having it sit in cold storage.
“The heart can beat and stay warm, so it's not just ‘keep the heart pumping,'" Kai said. “Also, you can watch how the heart behaves in the box so you can really optimize the condition over the heart before you before we put the heart into the recipient."
“It means a lot because with this technology, the patient who needs a heart because of their disease in the Hudson [Valley has] more chance to have a heart transplant quickly and safely."
Dr. Kai said WMC has done 37 heart transplants last year and recently celebrated their 300th overall. They were able to use the new device on a few of those transplants. They have all been successful.
Kai adds that the pig heart transplant, performed on a patient last month in Baltimore, is huge.
“We have a lot of patients [needing a] heart transplant in the United States,” Kai said. “I guess far more than 100,000 people require a heart transplant.”
Kai said many people cannot find a suitable donor. In this case, the 57-year-old man who suffered from terminal heart disease was ineligible for a human transplant because of his poor health.
“With this pig heart, there's a huge potential that the patient who cannot get the regular heart transplants from the donor have opportunity to get the heart, so basically increasing the chance of survival,” said Kai.