Kuwait, 14 July 2013: Doctors have performed their 500th transplant operation involving hearts and lungs at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust.
The world-famous hospital reached the milestone after a 25-year history of heart and lung transplants which has been shaped along the way by new technologies and breakthroughs. The 500 transplants figure includes a total of 351 heart transplants, 68 lung transplants and 81 heart-and-lung transplants.
Transplants involving the heart and/or lungs began at Great Ormond Street in April 1988 when the hospital's consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Prof Marc de Leval, performed the first heart transplant. GOSH has since become one of the largest children's heart and lung transplant centres in Europe. Approximately 25 heart and lung transplants are now carried out each year at the hospital.
Dr Matthew Fenton, consultant paediatric cardiologist and heart transplant doctor at GOSH, said: “During the past 25 years we have made huge progress in technology, treatment and outcomes for children undergoing heart and lung transplants. We've also dramatically improved the bridging treatments we can offer children to keep them as healthy as possible while they are waiting for an organ to become available.
“As we pass the 500 transplants mark we also need to remember that organ donation is a precious gift. I want to recognise the generosity and thoughtfulness of all the people and families who have donated organs over the years and made these transplants possible. At such an incredibly difficult time for their own family, organ donation can be a tough decision to make – but it's also an extremely powerful one in granting a child a second chance at life.”
One of the greatest developments during GOSH's 500 heart and lung transplants has undoubtedly been the advent of the Berlin Heart in 2004, which keeps children alive while they wait for a donor heart to become available. The machine effectively takes over from the heart, helping to pump blood around the child's body, and allows the child to move around without being confined to a bed.
In 2012, Bellah-Rae Glasgow-Provencal broke records by being kept alive for 273 days by a Berlin Heart. Bellah, who was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, later underwent a successful heart transplant at GOSH.
During the same year, four-year-old Mason Lewis also entered the record books by becoming the smallest person ever to undergo a double lung transplant in the UK. The youngster from Warwickshire was just three-foot tall (93cm) when he received the new lungs measuring 11cm in height and weighing 140g each.
In 2009 premature baby Sarah Cox also broke new ground after having a heart transplant at the age of just 23 days – making her the youngest surviving heart transplant patient in the UK at the time (by age at transplant).
Twenty-five years after the first transplant at GOSH, the hospital remains at the cutting edge of new treatments for serious heart and lung conditions in children. Led by Dr Mike Burch, paediatric cardiologist and director of cardiothoracic transplantation at GOSH, the cardiac team is now starting to explore technology that might eventually surpass organ transplants.
The team is investigating how using a patient's own stem cells might help the heart repair itself while a donor organ is being found – and Dr Burch hopes that one day this technology might eventually remove the need for organ transplants altogether.
The cardiac team at GOSH is also using a technique that uses a Berlin Heart to keep a child alive while their real heart is allowed to rest and recover – thereby delaying the need for a heart transplant and enhancing the child's quality of life. The treatment, known as ‘Berlin Heart bridge to recovery', has been used successfully on three children experiencing heart failure over the past 18 months.
Dr Burch said: “The Berlin Heart is normally used to keep a child alive until we are able to do a transplant. But in some cases you can support and rest the heart, and then over a number of weeks there will be a recovery of function.”
Dr Burch is optimistic that the treatment can potentially enhance children's quality of life for a significant number of years before the need for a transplant returns.
“After we remove the Berlin Heart, the child can usually go home and get back to normal life, including school and gentle exercise,” he said.