Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Have a Heart

Heart transfers have been part of the medical scene for a good chunk of my life.
Donated hearts, along with other organs, used to be (and still are) ‘harvested’ from a donor, packed in ice and rushed to the recipient. But the waiting list is loooong, and many people die while waiting for a new heart.
Australian doctors have harvested a heart from the recently deceased - 20 minutes or less - placed the heart in a special fluid, resuscitated it, and kept it beating until it was placed in the recipient patient.
They have done this 3 times. The first 2 recipients were doing well, the most recent patient was still in intensive care after the surgery. The doctors stated that with this process, with the heart actively beating right up until placed in the new body, they know the heart is good, that it hasn’t deteriorated past the point of use.
When I mentioned this article to my husband, he made some comment about, ‘Dr Frankenstein must be living in Australia these days.’ Always ready to see the funny side.
I found this report a bit creepy, when I first read it. But after further reflection, it dawned on me that all donated hearts come from dead people. Nobody has a spare one they can donate while still alive. If anything, the brain dead person who is still breathing and heart is still pumping through artificial stimulation is slightly closer to being alive than the gruesomely decapitated person from the car accident that just happened on Interstate 2 (for example). So the idea lost its creepiness.
In the old method, the heart dies as soon as it is removed, and it remains dead until it is sewn into the new person and jolted back to life. In the new method, the heart still dies, but it is resuscitated and nourished until time to sew it in the new person. The patient still gets a formerly-dead heart, but it hasn’t been ‘dead’ for as long.
Okay, I was wrong. Thinking about it like that makes both ways creepy. But it works, and if it saves more lives without costing any extra lives, then I’m all for it.
I still think the ideal thing to do would be to take some cells from the patient who needs a new organ, put those cells in a nutrient bath and coax them into growing a new heart/liver/whatever for that patient. I would think that would avoid rejection, too. Maybe they’ll get to that, some day.

While I’m waiting, I’m making a list of the parts I’d like grown for me. Let’s see, both knees, right shoulder, pancreas, gall bladder... Since I’m making a list, is there anything you’d like to order?

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