An Aberdeen man is the first patient in a UW trial to test a machine that keeps organs warm and beating when they’re transported to patients.
Ted Daniels has another shot at life. About a month ago, surgeons placed a beating heart inside his chest with the help of a new device that experts at the University of Washington School of Medicine say could boost the number of usable organs for transplants.
Ever since the 47-year-old’s heart started failing more than a decade ago, his path toward good health has been an uphill climb. He tried temporary fixes; he sought guidance from dozens of cardiovascular experts, but when he found out in mid-September that a transplant match had been found 1,500 miles away — and that new technology would keep that heart going until surgery — his future seemed brighter.
“I feel like a million bucks,” Daniels, of Aberdeen, said Wednesday, as he and doctors met with the media. “I get to watch my girls grow up; spend a couple more years with my wife … I wasn’t quite ready to check out. I’ve got so much more stuff to do.”
Daniels is the first of dozens of patients at seven centers across the country on whom clinicians will test the transport device, nicknamed “heart in a box,” that keeps hearts warm and beating during their time outside the body.
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“It raises the possibility of bringing more hearts to our region,” said cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Jason Smith. The device, about the size of a dishwasher, could revolutionize the traditional protocol for transporting organs, which are typically chilled in a picnic cooler, he said.
The device could keep a heart functioning for up to 11 hours, nearly triple the time with cold storage, said Neal Beswick, the vice president of business development for TransMedics of Andover, Mass., where the device is manufactured.
Donor hearts could be retrieved from Hawaii, for instance, where there’s no transplant center and viable hearts now go to waste.
Only about one in every three hearts donated for transplant is accepted, even as 4,200 people nationwide are waiting for the operations, a February Stanford University study found. Nearly 400 people in the U.S. — 94 in Washington state — died last year waiting for hearts, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
Daniels’ new heart, because of the device, stayed usable for eight hours as it made its 1,500-mile journey from its deceased donor to the Seattle operating room. Smith said researchers say the “heart in a box” could allow a heart to come from as far as 3,000 miles away.
One other patient at the UW has received a heart with the new technology, two of at least 55 people who are expected to be a part of the trial at the participating sites, Smith said. About 15 patients who need the lifesaving operation and are eligible at the UW have consented to participate, he said.
Like Daniels, the other patient is doing well, he said. Once the testing phase of the clinical trial is complete, which Smith estimated to be about nine months, results will go to the FDA for approval.
“To have a device to enable us to take time off that [travel] time really is exciting,” cardiologist Dr. Daniel Fishbein said. “Some patients don’t make it on the transplant list,” and this could be a lifesaving option, he said.