The ex vivo machine supplies the donor heart with oxygen during transport
Donor hearts are lucky to withstand a transport time of about four hours
The machine has potential to offer more transplants and reduce deaths
Kate Phillips received a heart and lung transplant which saved her life
She said a machine which brings hearts back to life is a ‘game changer’
Published: 01:26 EST, 16 February 2016 | Updated: 02:00 EST, 16 February 2016
Three years ago Kate Phillips, who has suffered congenital heart disease her whole life, received a heart and lung transplant which saved her life.
But her successful operation isn’t a reality for many patients on vital organ waiting lists.
Out of 381 hearts only 81 were successfully transplanted in Australia last year. Hearts are usually lucky to withstand a transport time of about four hours, with only one in four reaching operating tables.
A world first medical research project hopes to increase the number of hearts available for transplant by 40 per cent by bringing them back to life.
Kate Phillips and Professor John Fraser stand in front of the ex vivo machine
The ex vivo machine supplies the donor heart with oxygen during storage and transport, while keeping it cold and reducing the amount of work it needs to perform
Ms Phillips said the new machine is a ‘game changer’ and the thought of it gives her ‘goosebumps’
‘It supplies the donor heart with oxygen during storage and transport, while keeping it cold and reducing the amount of work it needs to perform – all of which contributes to reducing donor heart injury,’ said Professor John Fraser from The Prince Charles Hospital Critical Care Research Group.
Professor Fraser said the ex vivo machine being trialed at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane hospitals, has the potential to offer more hearts for transplant and hopefully a reduction in deaths in recipients waiting for heart transplants.
‘It’s Gatorade for hearts,’ professor John Fraser told The Australian.
‘The fluid mixes the donor’s blood, which has beautifully evolved over millions of years, with various solutions of minerals, nutrients and the right balance of salt. We’re still transporting it in a box but the box is perfused, there’s a continuous flow of liquid within it, and that blood and that solution is being continually oxygenated, feeding all the right stuff, the right Gatorade, to the heart.’
‘In terms of organ preservation, there’s been relatively little to improve things over the last 20 or 30 years,’ Professor Fraser said. ‘Pretty much you put an organ in a bag of ice and run really fast. In a country as vast as Australia, time is of the essence. This technology could mean where we might once have given someone a heart that allows them to walk around Coles for a while, maybe we can give someone a heart that allows them to see their daughter graduate 10, 20 years from now.’
Ms Phillips said the new machine is a ‘game changer’ and the thought of it gives her ‘goosebumps’.
‘I’ve heard stories of transplants where people are wheeled into theatre and they’re told somethings happened to the organ on the way.
‘So for this machine to have the potential to rejuvenate the heart while its in transport, it will give people waiting for an organ so much more hope,’ she said.
Phillips (left) has battled with congenital heart disease her whole life, a condition that can cause heart failure
The 30-year-old who battled with congenital heart disease, a condition that can cause heart failure, said: ‘I knew my whole life that one day I would need a transplant. It wasn’t until i was 27 that I had exhausted all options and was basically at the final stage.’
After a major cardiac arrest Ms Phillips received a successful heart and double lung transplant in 2013.
‘I really don’t know to how to describe how much of an impact it’s had on my life, I’m alive firstly and I also have a lot more energy, my lips are pink, my eyes are clear and I can lay flat without pain now.’
She said she is also now training to compete in her first long-distance race and hopes by sharing her experience she can help the Common Good research initiative at The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation in Brisbane.
Phillips hopes by sharing her experience she can help the Common Good research initiative