News – UK – Children’s Heart Transplants: Record Year for New Style Operations


Two UK hospitals have teamed up to offer a new type of heart transplant for children, reducing waiting times for life-saving patients operations

Freya Heddington, 14, from Bristol, was one of the first to get one and only waited two months instead of two years

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was one of the busiest years in a decade for child heart transplants in the UK

In 2015, the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge was the first in Europe to collect and transplant adult donor hearts that could no longer beat of their own accord after being deprived of life support

With a special device, surgeons can effectively restart the heart and keep it healthy until the transplant

Last February, the hospital partnered with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London to expand the service to children

Up until then, almost all pediatric heart transplants were from patients who had suffered brain death where, although their heart might be beating, they would never wake up. Once the life support is withdrawn, the heart is stopped and retrieved also known as donation after brain death (DBD)

Freya, 14, was one of the first pediatric patients to have this type of heart surgery

In August 2019, she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, which can lead to fatigue, chest pain, and breathing problems

She was warned that she might have to wait up to two years for a heart, but the GOSH and Royal Papworth program meant she only had to wait eight weeks

Freya left the hospital 10 days after her operation and was able to do the things she loved most, like horse riding

within a few months

“I have more stamina now, I can take long walks and climb hills, and I don’t have to stop to catch my breath,” she says

“I’m thrilled that I got such a great gift, but it’s annoying to know someone has died too”

Freya’s father Jason says her family will never forget the people – and the machines – who saved their lives

“Freya needs medication every day and there are hospital visits. It will always be in the back of my mind,” he says. “But we now know that she has a beautiful, healthy heart and that her future is bright”

For many years, a non-heartbeat donation was considered unsuitable for a transplant because the lack of oxygen caused heart failure to cause damage

However, a specially designed machine, called the organ care system, can help make it beat outside the body

The heart can be transferred to the device once life support has been withdrawn, the heart has stopped beating on its own, and death has been confirmed

Blood, nutrients and oxygen are pumped through the organ for up to 12 hours, leaving time to perform important checks and even transport it to other hospitals for transplantation

There are only two pediatric heart transplant units in the UK – at GOSH and Freeman Hospital in Newcastle – and in the past five years 39 children have died before a donor heart became available

“Some patients just won’t survive the wait,” says Jacob Simmonds, transplant surgeon at GOSH. “There is also a risk of damaging other organs, particularly the lungs, while waiting”

The collaboration between GOSH and Royal Papworth resulted in six novel pediatric heart transplants – post-cardiac donation donations in the UK in 2020. Only four more were performed worldwide

A total of 32 pediatric heart transplants were performed in the past year – the second most common in a decade

“We didn’t think we’d get a record number of transplants during a pandemic It was a phenomenal team effort,” says Marius Berman, Surgical Director, Transplant at Royal Papworth

The six transplants were from adult donors because the organ care system can accept hearts from donors weighing more than 50 kg (eight stones)

Royal Papworth and GOSH are now developing a new technology that they hope will be able to retrieve hearts from children in the same way

When successful, it can increase the number of organs available to infants and even babies when there is a desperate shortage

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Heart transplantation, organ transplantation, medicine

News – GB – Children’s heart transplants: record year for new-style operations
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