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‘Heart-in-a-Box’ can be the lifeline for distant donors


By Sarah Collins
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY April 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Days after his 74th birthday, Don Stivers received his dream gift – a new heart.

“I was born with a very ugly heart,” he explained. “Growing up I decided I was going to get over it and go to the Olympics and be a strong boy. And so everything I did was against the doctor’s orders. They said don’t run, don’t do that, but I did it anyway, and I would turn blue and pass out, and my mom would revive me. “

Stivers went on to be a high jumper at the University of California, Los Angeles. He didn’t make it to the Olympics, but he has remained active over the years by hiking, softballing, running, swimming and biking.

Around the age of 58, the California native began to struggle with energy. On a particularly difficult day, Stivers’ wife drove him to a hospital in Santa Barbara for four hours, where he was diagnosed with ventricular fibrillation.

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From that point on, he had automatic defibrillators implantable in his chest to help keep his heart rate on track. He went through six in all.

“Then the last one, the sons had torn the tricuspid valve so badly that the heart was in such a sad state,” Stivers said. “My cardiologist sent me to Cedars-Sinai, and since they couldn’t fix the heart, I ended up [going to the cardiology] team and they said, “In your state, a transplant is the way to go.” “

Stivers, a land surveyor, was not the typical candidate for a new heart.

Dr Dominic Emerson, Associate Surgical Director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the Smidt Heart Institute in Cedars-Sinai, said, “We do more adult heart transplants at Cedars than any other center in the country and really in the world. this we are able to expand the people we can transplant. And as a result, some places would not have listed Don due to his age. And then because of its size [he is 6 foot, 4 inches tall], it becomes even less the number of organs it can harvest. “

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Luckily for Stivers, the Cedar-Sinai Heart Institute hoped to expand its donor base using new technology.

Staff prepare for another assignment at the Van Nuys Airport in California.

TransMedics’ organ care system, dubbed Heart-in-a-Box, allows organs to live outside the body for a longer period of time, which means hospitals can spot a larger geographic radius for d ‘potential donors.

Traditionally, organs are put on ice, where a heart, for example, can only remain viable for about four hours. With Heart-in-a-Box, currently under review by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the organ is connected to a wearable device that mimics how it would act in the human body.

Cedars-Sinai had participated in some early Heart-in-a-Box trials within the normal geographic boundaries of the hospital. But when surgeons got a call from Hawaii about a relatively large heart from a sporty young person, they rushed to the Van Nuys airport.

At dinner time on March 1, Stivers got a phone call.

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“We found a match,” a hospital worker told him. “You should be here by the time the donor’s heart returns.”

Stivers and his wife arrived at the hospital around midnight and the operation began a few hours later. The procedure was successful, and Stivers became the first person on the mainland to receive a heart from Hawaii.

“The surgeon, after putting it on, he kind of came out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Trust me, you’ve got the perfect heart,’” Stivers recalls.

Stivers, estimated to have six to 12 months to live with her old heart, is exceeding recovery expectations. He and his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are grateful for the extra time.

“I can’t wait to cliff jump, swim and bike, hike and do stuff,” Stivers said. “I am 74 years old, but I have 24 years in my head.”

Now he has a heart to match.

More information

Visit Johns Hopkins Medicine to learn more about heart transplants.

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SOURCES: Don Stivers, heart transplant recipient, Three Rivers, California; Dominic Emerson, MD, Associate Surgical Director, Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support, Smidt Heart Institute, and Co-Surgical Director, Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit, Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles

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