“Heart in a box” transforming organ transportation

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The medical mile in Grand Rapids is paving a medical path when it comes to heart transplants, and the way the organs arrive.

Last month the Meijer Heart Center became the 4th place in the country to perform what’s called a “Heart in a box” transplant. The innovative technology is re-shaping how hearts are transported from donor to recipient, by having blood continually pumping through it.

FOX 17 news spoke with the doctors who performed the surgery, as well as the man who received the heart.

"You have a heart sitting in a sterile box and connected to a circuit that is pumping blood into the heart so the heart gets perfused and it's getting the blood back and perfusing all the time,” Says Dr. Martin Strueber, a heart surgeon at Spectrum Health. “And the heart sits there and its beating. This sounds very simple, but it’s hard to do with a heart outside of the body.”

The advanced medical device can more than double the amount of time a heart can be a viable organ during transport, from 4 hours to around 10 hours. Currently hearts are transported on ice and doctors say the window of opportunity for them to reach their recipient is small.

"If this technology works it could expand the number of donor organs by several thousand organs and could have a dramatic impact on how many people are able to be transplanted each year." Said Dr. Michael Dickinson, Medical Director of heart transplant at Spectrum Health.

The new box can increase the chances of recipients to receive a heart because it increases the time and distance it can travel.

"The potential was there to get a heart sooner, and possibly to get a heart period. Compared to the traditional waiting for a box in a block of ice to show up." Said Marv VanderMolen, the first person in Michigan to receive a heart in the  box transplant.

He hopes others will be able to receive the gift of life he was able to receive.

"If you're lucky enough, if you're fortunate enough, if you're blessed enough to receive the use of this technology be grateful for it, there's a good chance it literally will save your life.” Said VanderMolen.

The heart in a box trial phase still has a ways to go, but it has the potential to one day become common practice in hearts get transported.

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