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The Mysterious Human Heart The Mysterious Human Heart border=
A Series by David Grubin


The Replacement Heart
Photo of a heart transplantation operation
When an organ from a cadaveric donor becomes available, the United Network for Organ Sharing is contacted for a list of potential recipients. Timing is critical. When a compatible recipient is found and notified, the patient goes to the hospital immediately, and the donor's heart is removed and packed in a cold solution for travel.

Once the patient is admitted into the hospital, he or she begins taking immuno-suppressants to prevent rejection of the new heart. In the operating room, the patient's chest is cleansed with antiseptic solution and shaved if necessary. A doctor administers anesthesia intravenously, and the operation begins. A catheter is inserted to continually drain the bladder during and after surgery. Surgeons make an incision over the sternum, and the bone is divided to allow access to the heart. A heart-lung machine is used to circulate and oxygenate the patient's blood while the surgeon opens the pericardium that surrounds the heart and removes the heart from its connections to the arteries and veins. Sometimes a heart assistance device, used to keep the patient alive while awaiting a donor, will need to be removed before a new heart can be put in (shown to the right).

The most common method of heart transplantation is an orthotopic procedure, meaning that parts of the recipient's original atria are left in the chest. The donor heart is fitted and sewn in place, and once it begins to beat properly, the patient is removed from the heart-lung machine.

To finish, tubes to allow fluid drainage during the healing process are placed in the chest cavity and pass through the skin's surface. The sternum is closed with wires, and the tissue is sutured.


Funding is provided by Medtronic, AstraZeneca, and Mars, Incorporated - makers of CocoaVia. Additional funding is provided by the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation. A co-production of David Grubin Productions, Thirteen/WNET New York and WETA Washington, D.C.
Medtronic AsrtaZeneca MARS Thirteen/WNET NEW YORK