Transplant Surgeons Revive Hearts After Death

Transplant surgeons have started using a device that allows them to “reanimate” hearts from people who have recently died, and use the organs to save others.

The “heart in a box” is a wheeled cart with an oxygen supply, a sterile chamber, and tubing to clamp onto a donor heart and keep it fed with blood and nutrients. Doctors say it may extend the time a heart can last outside the body and is letting them recover hearts from donors who haven’t been eligible before.

In at least 15 cases, surgeons in the United Kingdom and Australia say they have used the system to successfully transplant hearts removed from patients after they’ve died. Typically, heart transplants only come from brain-dead donors whose hearts are cut away while their bodies are still healthy.

The $250,000 device was developed by Transmedics, an Andover, Massachusetts-based company, and is pending approval in the U.S. It could expand the number of donated hearts by between 15 percent and 30 percent, say doctors, saving the lives of people who would otherwise die from heart failure.