Northwestern heart surgeons successfully transplant heart from donor whose heart stopped beating

Heart surgeons at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute announced they performed Illinois' first successful heart transplant using a heart from a naturally deceased donor.  

Dr. Duc Thinh Pham calls the new method, nicknamed ‘Heart in a Box,’ "the biggest advancement in cardiac surgery and heart transplantation in the last 50 years."

On Oct. 12, his team successfully transplanted a heart from an organ donor whose heart had officially stopped beating.  

"'Heart in a Box' allows us to retrieve hearts from patients who have naturally died or whose hearts have stopped beating and retrieve it, reprofuse it, keep it warm and beating, and transplant it to an awaiting patient," Pham said.

Doctors said the box simulates the environment inside the body by pumping warm, oxygenated blood through the donor heart until it can be transplanted.


"This device effectively removes the time constraint, and now we can travel most of the way across the country to find the perfect match," said Dr. Benjamin Breiner.

Because the device can keep donor hearts viable for so much longer than a standard cooler, doctors said it will increase donor/recipient matches by 30 percent, which will vastly increase the number of heart transplants doctors are able to perform each year, and slash existing waitlists by thousands of slots.

The team said the recipient of the milestone procedure is doing well and is almost ready to go home.