'Beating heart' transplant patient hopes for long life

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The first patient in Britain to receive a "beating heart" transplant says he hopes the pioneering operation will give him another 30 years of life.

Michael Burt, 58, a builder from Burnham Market, Norfolk, was given the heart last month at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Surgeons transplanted a heart removed from a donor at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, which was kept beating for five hours while it was transported to Papworth.

It is the first time the technique, which involves connecting the heart to a machine the size of a tea trolley, has been tried in the UK. Surgeons hope it will extend the life-saving operation to more patients by making more hearts available for transplant.

Mr Burt, who has four grown-up children and three grandchildren, spent three weeks in hospital after volunteering to be part of a trial of the technique.

"I feel brilliant. I plan to enjoy life and get on with my life," he told the Eastern Daily Press. "It did not take me any time to adjust to the fact that I had someone else's heart inside me.

"I am so grateful to the surgeons and the team at Papworth. They are brilliant. I cannot praise them enough. I went for the trial because I felt ... I could help other people. If I died doing the trial, then so be it."

Mr Burt said his heart problems meant he could have died within months without a transplant.

"Without the transplant I would not have lived beyond six months. Now I hope to live for another 20-30 years," he said.

"I have got three brilliant grandchildren, four children. I have had the support of all my family and I am so grateful to the team at Papworth for what they have done for me.

"I am grateful to the donor family and wish them all the best and hope that they can come to terms with their sad loss.

"I am so grateful I have got the heart but I also know it means someone else has been bereaved."

The Organ Care System, made by the US company Transmedics, kept the heart beating until it was transplanted. The machine has been used only twice before, both times in Germany.

Organs quickly deteriorate after being taken from the body and hospitals operate a limit of about four hours on using a non-beating donor heart.

By extending the period during which the heart can be used, through keeping it alive and beating, the number of organs available for transplant and the number of potential recipients could be broadened.

Professor Bruce Rosengard, who led the team, said earlier this month, after news of the operation emerged: "We are extremely excited by the possibilities this offers us. Papworth is one of only four hospitals in Europe taking part in this trial and if the system continues to prove successful, it could significantly increase the number of donor hearts available.

"The whole process of taking the heart out and preparing it takes up to 20 minutes. During that time it is not beating but then we start it again to be moved in the machine, giving it oxygen and nutrient-filled blood.

"We know from experiments in the laboratory that we can maintain it for at least eight to 12 hours."

He said Mr Burt made good progress after the operation, adding: "At his exam one week after the operation, all his functions were absolutely normal."

Mr Burt's heart had been badly damaged either through repeated heart attacks or due to dilation, possibly caused by a virus, Dr Rosenberg said.

Professor John Wallwork, the transplant surgeon at Papworth, said: "The potential for this device is enormous, but we have to prove it. Not only will we be able to transport hearts over longer distances, going into Europe, but we can make heart transplants a daytime activity and we can assess the hearts before we transplant them. We may even be able to take sub-standard hearts and make them better."

There are 104 people, including nine children, registered for a heart transplant in the United Kingdom and a further 43 waiting for a heart and lung transplant. The number of heart transplants carried out in Britain has been declining for a decade.