This Heart's Record Trip May Be Game-Changer for Transplants

Organ was transported 2.5K miles for transplant from Alaska to Boston, thanks to a special cooler
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2023 9:15 AM CDT
This Heart's Record Trip May Be Game-Changer for Transplants
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Herbert Pictures)

When it comes to heart transplants, doctors don't want to see more than four to six hours pass from the time the organ is taken out of one body and moved into another. But one heart recently spent more than seven hours in transit, and traveled more than 2,500 miles to its recipient—said to be the longest distance a human heart has ever traveled, reports USA Today. That's according to Paragonix Technologies, the group that created the SherpaPak cooling system that held the fragile organ during its transport last month from Juneau, Alaska, to Boston, a record-breaking, 2,506-mile journey that ended at Massachusetts General Hospital. There, the heart was successfully transplanted into a patient.

"The heart did very well" is the text that Dr. Joseph Rubelowsky, a surgeon with transplant coordination group Transplant Advocates, received from one of the doctors involved with the procedure after he'd hand-delivered the heart to the hospital. USA Today notes that although hearts are typically transported in coolers, it's difficult to keep the interior at exactly the right temperature—about 39.2 degrees to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit—so that there's no tissue damage if things dip below freezing. "You don't want it too cold; you don't want it too warm," Rubelowsky says. "You want it just right." He was able to keep it "just right" during the long flight by keeping tabs on the heart's temperature via a mobile app.

The SherpaPak system could prove to be a game-changer, as the Health Resources & Services Administration notes that 17 people die daily waiting for an organ transplant, per NBC Boston. "In years past, we wouldn't have thought about using a heart from Alaska because it's just too far," cardiac surgeon Dr. David D'Alessandro, Mass Gen's surgical director of heart transplantation, tells USA Today. "Now we think there's a good chance these hearts are usable." The Boston Herald notes that the SherpaPak system might even allow for hearts to be brought over from Europe. The patient in this case, who hasn't wanted to speak publicly, was discharged from the hospital after a few weeks' stay and is said to be doing well. (More uplifting news stories.)

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