A ‘heart in a box’ can save lives, matching remote donors with patients


A few days after his 74th birthday, Don Stivers received a dream gift – a new heart.

“I was born with a very bad heart,” he explained. “Growing up, I figured I’d get over it and go to the Olympics and be a strong boy. And that’s why everything I did was against the doctor’s orders. They said don’t run, don’t do this, but I did anyway, and so did I.” I would be overwhelmed and pass out, and my mother would revive me. “

Stevers continued to be a high jumper at the University of California, Los Angeles. He did not make it to the Olympics, but remained active through the years hiking, playing softball, running, swimming and cycling.

When he was about 58, a native of California, he started having problems with his energy. On a particularly difficult day, Stivers’ wife drove him for four hours to a hospital in Santa Barbara, where he was diagnosed with ventricular fibrillation.

From that point on, he had implantable cardioverter defibrillators in his chest to keep his heart rate on track. He went through everything through six.

“Back then, the wires tore the tricuspid valve so much that the heart was in such a sad shape,” Stivers said. “My cardiologist sent me to Cedars-Sinai, and because they couldn’t fix my heart, I finished [going to the cardiology] and they said, “In your condition, a transplant is the way to go.”

Stevers, a surveyor, was not a typical candidate for a new heart.

Dr. Dominic Emerson, assistant surgical director for heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at the Smidt Heart Institute in Cedars-Sinai, said, “At Cedars we do more adult heart transplants than at any other center in the country and indeed in the world. That, we we are able to expand the one we can transplant.And as a result, some places would not have Don because of his age.And then because of his size [he is 6 foot, 4 inches tall], becomes an even smaller number of organs that he can take. “

Fortunately for Stivers, the Cedar-Sinai Heart Institute hoped to expand its donor base with the help of new technology. Staff are preparing for a new mission at Van Nuys Airport, California.

TransMedics ’organ care system, nicknamed Heart in a Box, allows organs to live outside the body for extended periods of time, meaning hospitals can reconnoiter a larger geographic radius for possible donors.

Traditionally, organs are placed on ice, where the heart, for example, can remain viable for only about four hours. In addition to the Heart-in-a-Box, which is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the organ is connected to a portable device that mimics to function in the human body.

Cedars-Sinai participated in some early “Heart in a Box” trials within the hospital’s normal geographical boundaries. But when surgeons called from Hawaii about a relatively large heart that originated from a young, athletic person, they raced to Van Nuys Airport.

On the evening of March 1, Stivers received a phone call.

“We found a match,” a hospital clerk told him. “You should be down here until the donor heart returns.”

Stivers and his wife arrived at the hospital around midnight, and the operation began a few hours later. The procedure was successful, and Stivers became the first person on land to ever get a heart from Hawaii.

“After he put it on, the surgeon somehow said out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Trust me, you have a perfect heart,'” Stivers recalled.

Stivers, who is estimated to have six to 12 months left to live with his old heart, exceeds expectations of recovery. He and his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are grateful for the extra time.

“I’m looking forward to jumping off a cliff, swimming and cycling, hiking and doing things,” Stivers said. “I’m 74, but I have 24 heads.”

Now he has the heart to match him.


The boy had a heart transplant after 17 months in an Italian hospital


More information:
Visit Johns Hopkins Medicine for more information on heart transplantation.

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Citation: ‘Heart in a box’ can save lives, pairing of distant donors with patients (2021, April 8) downloaded on April 8, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-heart-in-a – box-rescue-remote-donors-patients.html

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