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Shasta Regional Medical Center participates in first “beating heart” transplant on the West Coast

Redding, California, September 22, 2020 - Shasta Regional Medical Center partnered with UC San Diego Health, to be the first hospitals on the West Coast to participate in a heart transplant surgery from a donor after circulatory death, or DCD, using a new portable organ care system. The successful surgery is part of a national interventional clinical trial that could increase organ donation by an estimated 20-30 percent, resulting in less waiting time for patients in need of a new heart.

DCD involves retrieving organs from hospitalized donors who have died because their heart has stopped, either naturally or because life support has been discontinued.

Until recently, only hearts from patients who have been declared brain dead (DBD) were recovered for transplantation in the United States because of the need to perform a functional assessment of the organ before transplant. For DCD patients, with prior consent, surgeons remove the organ — within 30 minutes — and connect it to a machine that perfuses the heart with warm, oxygenated blood, reviving and keeping the organ beating and functional for assessment and possible transplantation. The warm perfusion system can potentially keep the organ viable for longer periods than traditional cold storage, allowing for transporting organs over much longer distances.

“The use of this new portable Organ Care System, is changing the standard for heart transplants. Not only will this new system increase the number of hearts available for those in need, but it can also optimize the timing of the transplant operation and utilization of operating room resources. We are proud to partner with UC San Diego in this West Coast first procedure”, said Casey Fatch, Chief Executive Officer, Shasta Regional Medical Center.

By utilizing the new warm perfusion transport system, developed by TransMedics, a U.S.-based biotech company, surgeons have greater access to hearts that would otherwise not be used for transplant due to concerns about functionality or logistics.

Currently, hearts intended for transplant are stored and transported in a cold preservation solution for a finite time, preferably under four hours to minimize tissue damage caused by oxygen deprivation. Because donor hearts must be transported and transplanted quickly, donor availability is restricted geographically.

“While cold preservation for organs has allowed for viable transplant options, we are severely limited by time in order to perform a successful transplant,”. “With the pump we can address this challenge as the heart is continually beating and receiving blood flow, resulting in an extended amount of time allowed between organ retrieval and transplant by up to 20 hours.” The benefit being, teams can travel longer distances to procure organs for those in need”, stated Mark Mitchelson, Chief Nursing Officer, Shasta Regional Medical Center.

The American Heart Association estimates 6 million Americans are living with heart failure, with approximately 60,000 suffering end-stage disease when conventional therapies no longer work. For these persons, a heart transplant becomes the only life-saving option. In 2019, according to the federal Health Resources & Services Administration, 3,553 heart transplants were performed. More than 3,500 are currently on the national waiting list for a heart transplant, including 50 persons in the San Diego region, according to Lifesharing, a federally designated nonprofit group that coordinates organ and tissue donation in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Waiting times for a heart transplant vary, from days to, more often, months — and in some cases, years, depending upon listing status. Over the last five years, an average of 318 persons on the heart transplant wait list have died each year waiting for a donor organ.