Lifesaving heart transplant programme exceeds 100 patients

Surgeons at Royal Papworth Hospital

Surgeons at the Royal Papworth Hospital (RPH) started using its ‘donation after circulatory death (DCD) heart transplant programme in 2015 thanks to funding from RPH Charity. - Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

A hospital’s lifesaving heart transplant programme which was the first of its kind in Europe has now been received by over 100 patients.  

Surgeons at the Royal Papworth Hospital (RPH) started using its ‘donation after circulatory death (DCD) heart transplant programme in 2015 thanks to funding from RPH Charity. 

Previously, surgeons were only able to transplant beating hearts from donors once they were classed as brain-stem dead (DBD). 

But after the first heart transplant using a DCD donor heart, RPH has now used the programme on at least 105 patients, as DCD accounts for around 50 per cent of the hospital’s heart transplant activity. 

“Without this treatment using hearts from donors whose death is determined by circulatory criteria, many of these patients may not have received a lifesaving transplant,” Dr Stephen Pettit, consultant cardiologist and clinical lead for transplantation at RPH, said. 

“The transplant team, and all our other colleagues who have contributed to this achievement throughout the hospital, are very proud of this milestone and allowing more people to have a second chance at life.” 

Heart perfusion machine at Royal Papworth Hospital

Surgeons at the Royal Papworth Hospital (RPH) started using its ‘donation after circulatory death (DCD) heart transplant programme in 2015 thanks to funding from RPH Charity. Pictured: Jen, a donor care physiologist, with a heart perfusion machine. - Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

Before the DCD programme was launched, surgeons Stephen Large and Steven Tsui researched the idea of using donor hearts from non-beating heart donors. 

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This was to try and significantly increase the number of people able to benefit from a transplant. 

Now, survival after DCD heart transplantation at RPH is identical to DBD heart transplants, with similar length of stay in hospital after the transplant and similar heart function in the longer term. 

RPH has also helped to expand the number of countries who offer the DCD programme. 

“Our thanks, as ever, rests with the donors and their families for their altruism at the most difficult time in their lives,” said Dr Pettit. 

“There are currently more than 300 adults and children on the waiting list for a heart transplant in the United Kingdom, many of whom are critically ill, so we have much more to do.” 

Dr Pettit added: “Although the organ donation law has changed to opt-out, family consent is always required, so please have a conversation with your loved ones and share your organ donation wishes.”