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How They Keep a Human Heart Beating Before Transplant

at 4:25 pm | By

Warning! Gross medical images!

We’ve come a long way from the age of poking and prodding patients with bare hands, bloodletting and other procedures we scoff at today. Discovering penicillin and finding out about bacteria catapulted medicine into a new age of treatment and discovery. These days modern medicine never ceases to amaze and fascinate. The fact that we can do something like a heart transplant is incredible. But have you ever wondered what the intricate operation looks like?

doctors working on heart in machine

Source: YouTube @Al Jazeera America

These medical professionals have heart.

A Little History

close up of human heart in machine

Source: YouTube @Al Jazeera America

The first heart transplant happened in South Africa in 1967 by Dr. Christian Barnard. Now over 5,000 transplants happen every year, with about half of these happening in the US.

From donor to recipient, the heart must be transported within six hours before the ice damages the organ. Technology has finally caught up and has something better than just a cooler full of ice to maintain the heart. However, 8 out of 10 donor hearts never survive the trip to the patient.

The Machine

the organ transplate machine

Source: YouTube @Al Jazeera America

Called The Organ Care System, it is a large machine that keeps the heart warm and beating. It also supplies blood and nutrients to the heart. Not only is the system a more optimal environment for a heart, but it doubles the amount of time it can be outside the body. Eventually the machine will able to house other organs such as lungs and provide it with large amounts of antiobiotics while outside the system.