Hearts zoom across time and space to give new life

28 April 2016

That India's organ transplant network now works with considerable efficiency was demonstrated by two incidents on Tuesday. In the first, A 6 am phone call to Delhi from an official of the Maharashtra health department triggered a quick assigning of a heart harvested in Surat, which was flown to Mumbai on a chartered flight and transplanted into a 43-year-old man. The transplant operation started at 11.48 am, less than six hours after that phone call.

In the second incident, in just six-and-a-half minutes, Pune traffic police created a green corridor on Tuesday afternoon whereby the heart of a 23-year-old man, who died in a road accident, was rushed from Ruby Hall Clinic to the airport and flown to AIIMS, New Delhi. The recipient was a 24-year-old youth, who was suffering from a heart ailment for the last four years.

While for Fortis Hospital at Mulund in Mumbai, this was the 14th heart transplant procedure, it was the sixth inter-state heart transplant for Maharashtra health officials, and the speed at which it all worked out was the high point.

Dr Gauri Rathod, nodal officer of Maharashtra's human organ transplant programme, said, ''I called the NOTTO (National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organsation) helpline at 6 am, and was wondering if it would get answered. But a person picked up the phone on the first ring.''

She said that along with the phone call, she had even posted the information on the harvested heart on the messaging platform Whatsapp, which too had five responses. And all this at the crack of dawn.

The coordinated transplant effort, now largely perfected in Mumbai, rolled into action after a 17-year-old at Sunshine Global Hospital in Surat was declared brain dead following a road accident in which he suffered a serious head injury. The heart was flown to Fortis Hospital Mulund, with the airport and traffic authorities of both cities creating a 'green corridor' for quick transportation of the heart.

The heart's recipient hails from Alwar in Rajasthan, and was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy.

Officials of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Committee said there were 15 people waitlisted for a heart, and while Fortis has been at the forefront, carrying out all the heart transplants recorded in the city since last year, more hospitals are joining in.

The city's heart transplant network is expanding. The first heart transplant in Mumbai was carried out in August last year.

Over the past six months, the number of hospitals registered with the State health department to carry out the procedure has gone up from two to six. Earlier, only Fortis and Asian Heart Institute were carrying out heart transplants; now the list includes hospitals such as Jaslok, Jupiter, and Kokilaben. ''We want more hospitals to start taking up heart transplants,'' Dr Rathod said.

To strengthen the organ transplant network, the government is in talks with private flight operators, who have been seeking waiver of the airport parking charges and certain tax concessions. Flying a heart from one city to another costs a minimum of Rs3 to Rs4 lakh.

Multiple transplants
In the case of the Delhi transplant, this is the second such incident of a heart being taken for transplant from Pune, but the first in the city where six organs were donated by the deceased. This is also the first case of inter-state heart transplant from Pune.

Dr P K Grant, chief managing trustee of Ruby Hall Clinic, said that while the heart was flown to AIIMS, the liver was transplanted in a 64-year-old woman at the hospital itself. While one kidney was used in a transplant operation for a 49-year-old man at Ruby Hall, the other was sent to Aditya Birla Hospital, said Dr Sanjay Pathare, medical director, Ruby Hall Clinic. Two corneas were also donated.

According to hospital authorities, the youth was travelling in a jeep with his friends when the accident occurred near Alandi. He was admitted to Ruby Hall Clinic on 20 April, where he died.

Dr Aarti Gokhale, central coordinator of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Committee (ZTCC) said that this was the second case of a heart being sent for transplant from Pune. The first case was that of a 42-year-old woman whose heart was sent for a transplant to Mumbai in August last year.

''Initially, we had asked Mumbai ZTCC to check if they have requirement for a heart. However, since one patient was unfit and the other a foreign national, we asked the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation if there was a requirement. The team from AIIMS then left from Delhi this morning,'' Gokhale said.

In Pune, there have been 12 brain-dead donors this year and a total of 17 kidney transplants and 13 liver transplants. Dr Milind Hote, professor at the cardiovascular thoracic surgery department at AIIMS, told The Indian Express that a team of surgeons headed by Dean Dr Balram Airan, had boarded a flight from Delhi to reach Pune at 11.20 am. The process to retrieve the heart was taken up at 2.30 pm and within six and a half minutes, they reached Pune airport to board a 3.25 pm flight.

''The surgery was started at 5.30 pm and got over at 9.30 pm. The patient is stable,'' Hote said. DCP (Traffic) Sarang Awad said, ''As per requisition, a green corridor was created between Ruby Hall Clinic and the airport for unhindered transportation of the organ. The distance of 7.8 kilometres was covered in six-and-a-half minutes. The successful green corridor was the result of planned and coordinated efforts of the traffic divisions.''

Awad added that two assistant commissioners of police, one police inspector, four assistant inspectors and 32 traffic cops were part of the effort.


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