It has been described as the biggest breakthrough in over ten years. Surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney Australia have transplanted hearts from dead bodies into live patients. The world-first procedure uses hearts that are no longer beating, but previous to this, the hearts used for transplants were beating and from brain-dead patients.

It was announced on Friday that doctors at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, that they had performed the operation on three patients using hearts, which had stopped beating for a period of 20 minutes.

“The donor heart wasn’t beating for up to 20 minutes before it was resuscitated and successfully transplanted…This represents a paradigm shift in organ donation and will result in a major increase in the pool of hearts available for transplantation,” the Institute said in a statement.

Surgeons have successfully transplanted a 'dead' heart into a live patient.

Surgeons have successfully transplanted a ‘dead’ heart into a live patient.

Professor Bob Graham, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Institute informed ABC, the new procedure may save up to 30% more people.

“What happens is we have a patient whose brain is almost completely gone, but they still have a little bit of brain function so they can’t be classified as being dead,” he said. “And if the relatives agree we can turn off the life support. And when we do that the heart gradually stops beating over about fifteen minutes. We then by law have to wait another five minutes to make sure the heart has really stopped.”

The procedure works by obtaining a heart that is no longer beating, removing it from the deceased person and then submerging it in a preservation solution, which was developed by hospital researchers over a 12-year period. A heart is then placed in a console, known as “heart in a box”, to start it beating again. Graham said that the console and preservation solution working together are “like a perfect storm” that have allowed for this revolutionary procedure to be undertaken.

“Then we can take the heart out and we can put it on a console where we connect it up with blood going through the heart and providing oxygen. Gradually the heart starts beating again. And we also give it a preservation solution that allows it to be more resistant to the damage of lack of oxygen,” Graham said.

The first successful transplant was performed only a few months ago on 57-year-old grandmother named as Michelle Gribilas, who was bedridden before the surgery took place. In a press conference Gribilas said: “I was very sick. Now I feel like a different person. I walk 3 kilometres a day.”

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[Image via therakyatpost]