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How a device used to revive a heart could "revolutionize" transplants

Doctors revive heart to perform transplant
Doctors revive donor heart to perform successful transplant in U.S. 03:32

A device used to revive a heart could "revolutionize how we transplant patients," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. The device, currently in clinical trials, was used for the first time in the United States Sunday to transplant the heart of a 26-year-old man who died of cardiac arrest into a 60-year-old veteran with heart failure.

With traditional heart transplants, the donor is brain-dead, but their heart is pumping normally, explained Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health in New York. "So, the transplant team goes in, they take the heart out, and immediately put it in a cooler," which gives them about six hours to get the heart to the recipient and "shock it back to life," she said. 

With the transplant on Sunday, the donor died, his heart stopped functioning and it was put in an Organ Care System, or Heart in a Box, where it was "pro-fused with warm blood, nutrients, oxygen," Narula said. "So, it's kind of almost like a normal physiologic state." This process gives surgeons about 12 hours to get the heart to the recipient.

"That's really a game changer," she said, explaining that hearts could be transported from much father distances. "For example, if it were in Hawaii, right, we know that many hearts per year go unused because they can't make that travel distance to the mainland," she said. "So, this really opens the door to the number of people you would be able to give hearts to that may have gone unused."

The surgeon who performed the transplant Tuesday at the Duke University Hospital, Dr. Jacob Schroder, said the technique "has the potential to expand the donor pool by up to 30%."

The device has been used more than 100 times over the past several years in the United Kingdom and Australia, Narula said. "They found when they followed these patients over the last couple of years that they seemed to do just as well, in terms of survival and the heart function, as those patients who had the traditional heart transplant," she said.

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