A heart transplant is not an easy operation by any standards. It requires great skill and precision - and also a very tight watch on the clock.
In fact, a heart must be transplanted within six hours of harvesting from the donor.
And for the first time in India, a heart was flown down from New Delhi to Chennai for a transplant, and the doctors managed this challenging feat in record time.
An Indian Air Force personnel met with a road traffic accident on Tuesday, and sustained severe head injuries in Delhi. He was rushed to the R & R Army Hospital at New Delhi for treatment. On Wednesday morning, the patient was declared brain dead, and his family decided to donate his organs.
Meanwhile, a patient at Gleneagles Global Health City in Chennai needed a heart. As the doctors at both hospitals communicated with each other, they decided to embark on something they have never done before.
“The challenge was to bring in the heart in four hours and stitch it in 2 hours. There is only a chance that you have and you make best of it,” said Dr. Sandeep Attawar, Director and Chair of Heart Failure and Transplant, Gleneagles Global Hospitals.
“We were informed about the heart that was available for Transplant at R&R Army Hospital in Delhi, by the Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu (TRANSTAN), this afternoon at about 1.15 pm,” said Dr Sandeep.
The heart was harvested just after 2pm, and from that moment on, it was a race against time.
“The doctors at the army hospital were kind enough to harvest the organ and ensure all necessary parameters to transport the organ safely were taken,” said Dr. Sandeep.
And then, the organ was transported to Chennai on a Jet Airways flight.
“The Jet Airways flight left Delhi at 4.12pm and reached Chennai about 10 minutes before its landing time. Ten minutes is a lot for us. The DGCA and airport authority in Delhi as well as Chennai played a monumental role in helping the heart reach us safely,” said Dr. Sandeep.
The heart reached Chennai at 6.50 pm. The Chennai traffic police then made sure that the heart reached the Global hospital from the airport in 30 minutes.
By 8pm on Wednesday, the transplant had started. The surgery went on for a few hours, and the heart was successfully re-circulated. The patient is on ventilator support right now, and will be sent to a normal ward in a few days.
Image: Doctors from Global Hospital
Asked about how heart donors are tested and chosen for transplantation, Dr. Sandeep said, “We get the heart by checking the blood group. We also check the body weight, it can be 20% up or down. Moreover, it is made sure that there are no infections, HIV or cancer.”
Organ donation in Tamil Nadu is much better compared to other states, say doctors.
“There are more donors in Tamil Nadu. It is difficult to find heart and lung donors because if there is an accident, the first organs to get damaged are heart and lungs. Generally, if there are 100 donors, about 50-60% donate their heart and only about 15% percent donate lungs,” said Dr. Bala, a heart surgeon from Global Hospitals.