CHARLOTTE, NC (News Release) – The heart transplant team at Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute is using new technology to keep hearts viable while they are transported to a waiting heart transplant recipient. The wearable technology, called the TransMedics Organ Care System (OCS), extends the amount of time a donated heart may be suitable for transplant, helping to make more donated hearts available to those who need them.
“Once a deceased donor heart is removed due to cardiac death, the wearable system reactivates it and keeps it beating by infusing it with donor blood that is supplemented with nutrients and oxygen,” said Dr. Eric Skipper, a cardiothoracic . heart transplant surgeon at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “The system also allows us to carefully assess the functional quality of the heart and the viability for transplantation before we arrive in the operating room to perform the transplant.”
According to Skipper, OCS removes the time constraints that may require rejecting a donated heart. Previously, the transplant team at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute could only accept hearts from donors within a 500-mile radius. That is
because there is a 4-hour cold storage limit on the organ and the travel time between the deceased donor and a patient awaiting a transplant in Charlotte would exceed that. Now, with the use of new technology, the group of donors
it has expanded because the heart can remain viable for up to eight hours and be received from a distance of up to 1,000 miles. It also allows for the acceptance of higher-risk hearts, including those from older donors and donors who are initially on life support before withdrawing care, known as donation after donor cardiac death.
The first patient to receive a donated heart preserved through new technology at Atrium Health recently completed his transplant and is currently recovering in the hospital.
“This was a patient who potentially had a long wait for an organ transplant,” Skipper said. “But because of the ability to use this technology, they were able to receive a heart very quickly.” Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute is the only transplant center in the Charlotte metro region currently using this technology and was identified as an ideal location because it is a high-quality, high-volume transplant center. The transplant team used Atrium Health’s MedCenter Air to transport the team to and from the donor location.
Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute is the only transplant center in the Charlotte metro region currently using this technology and was identified as an ideal location because it is a high-quality, high-volume transplant center. The transplant team used Atrium Health’s MedCenter Air to transport the team to and from the donor location.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of this device in April 2022 to preserve hearts for donation after cardiac death. The approval followed the results of a multicenter clinical trial that compared the use of the technology with the traditional method of cold storage to preserve donated hearts during transport. The study found that use of the OCS resulted in 90 patients (out of 180 randomized and transplanted patients) receiving organs that were previously unusable prior to this technology. These recipients had a one-year survival rate of 93.3% compared to a one-year survival rate of 87.3% among a control group that did not use OCS.
“We were always limited to accepting organs from donors who were immediately brain dead,” said Dr. Joseph Mishkin, an advanced heart failure transplant cardiologist at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “We can now accept organs from donors who have suffered irreversible brain injury but do not meet the formal criteria for brain death. In these cases, the family has decided to withdraw the care. Donor organs can now be a life-saving gift to others.”
Across the US, more than 3,300 people are on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and 95 of them are waiting in North Carolina, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Organ Procurement and Transplantation
“We are facing a national shortage of donated organs. I hope this technology will transform the transplant industry, increasing the nation’s supply of donors and helping us transplant more patients in need,” said Mishkin.