New approach to heart transplant surgery could lessen donor wait times


SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – For people who need a heart transplant, the amount of time spent waiting for a suitable donor greatly affects their chances of survival. A new approach to heart surgery could drastically cut down on wait times for those patients.

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The technique, known as donation after cardiac death, involves keeping the donor heart pumping outside the body instead of relying on a donor who is declared braindead.

Donation after cardiac death opens up more options for patients, Dr. Amy Fiedler, UCSF Assistant Professor of Cardiac Surgery, told KCBS Radio's Kathy Novak on "As Prescribed." However, UCSF is one of just a handful of places across the country using this method.

"If they are interested in obtaining a donor from a cardiac death donor, the waitlist time is significantly shorter, and that’s because not many centers in the country are providing this type of transplant options for their patients, and so these donors are largely underutilized in a heart transplant pool," Fielder explained.

According to Dr. Jason Smith, Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Programs at UCSF, the method has proven successful here and abroad. "Eventually every successful technology gets distributed widely, and I think ultimately this will become an element in every program across the country," he said.

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