Health Care Science and Innovation

Groundbreaking technology allows ‘dead’ hearts to be transplanted; gives hope to nation’s organ shortage

looking down at a device that keeps hearts of diseased donors pumping

ORLANDO, Fla., July 31, 2020 — The AdventHealth Transplant Institute Cardiothoracic program performed the first heart transplant in Florida through a process known as Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD). The team utilized a donor heart that was no longer beating and was evaluated via a groundbreaking process under a clinical FDA investigation.

DCD heart transplantation gives hope to patients and physicians faced with a growing organ shortage across America. These heart transplants are made possible by a clinical trial using the Transmedics Organ Care System, a machine that keeps a heart which was stopped prior to donation viable for hours. AdventHealth is one of 12 transplant centers in the country participating in a clinical trial for the process. The transplant was a team effort in partnership with AdventHealth Translational Research Institute and the organ procurement agency OurLegacy.

“There are far more people in this country who need heart transplants than there are heart donors,” said Dr. Donald Botta, surgical director of heart transplant program at AdventHealth. “We’re excited to have another tool in our arsenal that can help us save lives. These kinds of transplants could expand the donor pool by thousands.”

George Martin, 46, had been awaiting a transplant since 2018, when a severe case of influenza attacked his heart muscle. The Belleview resident had twice before been told a donor heart was available only to later learn that the organ was not viable.

In mid-June, the AHTI team travelled out-of-state to the donor’s location, procured the heart for Mr. Martin after the donor was removed from the ventilator and connected it to the machine to support it with blood from the donor. The team returned to Orlando with the heart, where it was transplanted into Martin.

“The next day I was up walking,” Martin, a Navy veteran and an engineer for Lockheed Martin, said. “From an engineering standpoint, the technology was something that appealed to me. It’s just a blessing.”

Nearly 110,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 3,000 of those are waiting for a heart. Twenty people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.

“The hearts that will be transplanted as a result of this technology would have been buried before,” said Dr. Scott Silvestry, surgical director for thoracic transplant at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute and the principal investigator for the Transmedics clinical trial at AdventHealth. “Instead, they’ll save lives of people like George Martin and hopefully many more Central Florida residents.”

“Organ donors, such as Mr. Martin’s, are heroes who deserve our gratitude and respect,” said Ginny McBride executive director of OurLegacy, Central Florida’s organ procurement organization. “This new technology will allow donors and their families to touch even more lives through their generosity. We are humbled to be stewards of these life-saving gifts.”

Signing up to be an organ donor is quick and easy. Anyone can be a donor regardless of age, religion, race and nationality.