January 10, 2020

University Hospital among the first in country to perform DCD heart transplant

Madison, Wis. — The UW Health Transplant Program became just the third center in the United States to transplant an adult heart into a recipient from a donor who died of circulatory death, instead of brain death.

Donation after circulatory death, or DCD, occurs after the heart has stopped beating and the person has been declared dead. Traditionally, heart donations occurred only after a declaration of brain death. While other organs have been transplanted from DCD donors for years, there was not an effective way to make DCD hearts viable for transplant until now.

The UW Health Transplant program is one of five centers nationwide participating in a clinical trial of a device that circulates warm, oxygenated blood through the heart after recovery, essentially restoring and preserving heart function until it is ready to be transplanted into a recipient. Doctors say this new process could increase the number of hearts available for transplant by 30 percent.

"This is a major milestone for the transplant community and provides renewed hope for the thousands of people who have been waiting for a new heart and a second chance at life," said Dr. Jason Smith, one of the two UW surgeons who performed the transplant and principal investigator of the trial. "Not only could this significantly decrease the wait times for a new heart, but it will also decrease the number of people who die before an acceptable heart becomes available.

The milestone transplant occurred Dec. 30, 2019, at University hospital. The patient, who received their new heart four days after enrolling in the trial, is recovering and doing well.

Currently there are more than 3,700 people nationally waiting for a life-saving heart transplant, 89 of whom live here in Wisconsin. UW Health is actively recruiting and screening heart failure patients who are interested in participating in this trial.

In addition to Dr. Smith, the UW team responsible for the transplant includes Dr. Amy Fiedler, UW Health transplant surgeon; Dr. , medical director of UW Health's Heart Failure and Transplant Program; and Stephen DeVries, formerly a UW Health procurement specialist.