World first as heart stored for 12 hours before transplant in France

The organ was flown across the Atlantic in a specially-adapted fridge

The heart was not only stored in a fridge but also received a constant supply of blood and oxygen to keep it viable for 12 hours
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A man in France has successfully received a heart transplant after the donated heart was stored for 12 hours and flown across the Atlantic prior to the operation, in a world first.

The 70-year-old received the transplant at the Hôpital Universitaire La Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, and he is now recovering well, said Professor Guillaume Lebreton, the thoracic surgeon who coordinated the operation and the flight.

The man’s case is unique as donated hearts for transplant can usually only be stored for two to four hours. In contrast to other transplant organs, hearts have a very short storage life because they typically do not react well to their blood supply being cut off. 

World first storage method

Yet, this heart was flown across the Atlantic for 6,700 kilometres from the Antilles (the French Caribbean overseas departments) on an Air France flight before reaching Paris.

The heart was transported not only in a large fridge - which kept the heart cool at 8C, as is normal for donor organs - but also ‘transfused’ the entire time, with a supply of blood and oxygen pumped through it for the duration of the flight and storage prior to the operation.

This is a world first. Until now, storing a heart safely for transplant for so long would have been considered impossible.

Read also: France’s first larynx transplant: Woman talks after 23 years’ silence 

‘New hope’

The success of this operation brings new hope to other transplant patients, said Prof Lebreton, as it potentially opens the way for donor organs to come from much further away. 

All organs could potentially be stored and transported in the same way, he said.

Long waiting lists

The number of transplant patients is slowly growing every year in France, as the medical field advances. Last year, there were 5,000 transplants in total, with the most common being the kidney and liver.

Read also: Organ donation in France: Why it is good to talk about it 
Read also: Transplant patient fighting for France to pay €1m US hospital bill 

However, there are still more people who need a transplant than donor organs available, and in the case of hearts, there is just one donor per two waiting patients. Almost 22,000 people in France are currently on the waiting list for a donor organ of some kind.