Record-breaking year for Harefield transplants

Harefield Hospital's renowned transplant programme had its busiest year ever, giving 97 patients a new chance at life during 2017/18. 

The record-breaking 97 operations included 33 heart transplants, 59 lung transplants, and five heart and lung transplants - as well as the implantation of five total artificial hearts and 37 ventricular assist devices (a mechanical pump that supports a weakened heart to pump blood around the body). 


Since the first heart transplant was carried out at Harefield in 1980, there have been more than 3,000 transplant operations, including the world's first double heart and lung transplant in 1983. 

Harefield has the best long-term survival rates in the UK for patients who have had a heart or lung transplant. 

Mr Andre Simon, director of heart and lung transplantation and ventricular assist devices, said: "The number of people having transplant surgery here has increased significantly in the last eight years. When I first came here they did seven heart transplants a year, and now we are averaging almost three per month. 

"Despite huge advances, engineering has not yet come up with a permanent replacement of the human heart. Let's put it in context: the human heart beats 70 times per minute - now calculate how many times it has had to beat in an 80-year-old. It cannot fail. 

"This means that there will clearly continue to be a need for transplantation for the foreseeable future, which is why we continue to invest in developing our services, and with our planned partnership with King's Health Partners I think we have very good long-term options for treating end-stage heart and lung failure."

Perfusionists: a vital part of the transplant team

Clinical perfusion scientists (perfusionists) are a key part of the transplant team - and the theatres' team overall. They are the experts who ensure the heart-lung machines that take over a patient's breathing and blood circulation during surgery, work as they should. 

When patients have surgery, perfusionists are responsible for their cardiac output, blood gases and blood pressure, while their heart and lungs are not working. 

Once the operation is over, perfusionists get the heart safely restarted and withdraw patients from machine support. 

Most perfusionists are ITU nurses or science graduates by background. There are only 400 perfusionists in the UK, of whom 20 work at the Trust. 

The perfusionists at Harefield are the most experienced in the world at using the "heart in a box" system. Tim Pitt, head of perfusion, said: "When you see patients go onto the machines, and you have the responsibility of being their heart and lungs, it grips you. 

"Our perfusionists go above and beyond what is expected at most other hospitals, using the whole range of skills and techniques across theatres, transplant, intensive care and paediatrics."

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