Procedure Marks Milestone for Heart Transplants in Nebraska

Bringing a heart that has stopped beating back to life and then using it for transplant. It’s called donation after cardiac death. Doctors at Nebraska Medical Center successfully completed a DCD heart transplant after a groundbreaking surgery this month.

The procedure involves connecting a donor to a machine that restores circulation to the heart and other organs while the organs remain inside the donor. Doctors at Nebraska Medical Center used this method to transplant four organs, including a heart, for the first time on January 3, 2021. This method has been used in kidney and liver transplants in the past, but this is the first time it was also used to prepare a donor heart for transplant here in the state of Nebraska.

“The technique used to recover the heart is unique and has only been performed in a very few cases around the world and in only one other center in the United States (NYU),” said Marian Urban, MD, PhD, cardiothoracic surgeon. “With this technique, we are able to restore the blood flow through the heart before it undergoes irreversible damage. The benefits of using this new recovery technique are not limited to the heart. We were able to successfully use the heart, liver, and both kidneys. Four lives were saved with this procedure.”

Don Sheard, 70, of Elmwood, Nebraska, received the heart recovered through the milestone surgery.

“I was running out of time,” Sheard explained. For more than three years, his heart relied on an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to keep his heart pumping. He agreed in advance he would be willing to accept a DCD heart, knowing it could speed up his wait time and benefit doctors and researchers as well. Now for the first time in years, his heartbeats without the help of batteries.

“I feel freer for one thing,” Sheard said after his first weekend back home after the transplant. “I feel more grateful in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people involved in this whole situation. I feel good about the future.”

Recovering organs after cardiac death could expand the donor pool by 30 percent, according to researchers.

(Photo by WOWT 6 News)

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