Mass General surgeons perform historic heart transplant

Surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital recently performed the organization's first heart transplant without the use of outside blood products, the Boston hospital said April 20.

Physicians knew the patient, Fay Reid-Mensah, would need a transplant as she had congestive heart failure. However, her beliefs as a Jehova's Witness meant she could not receive blood from another human being or have her blood leave her body.

Traditional protocols often involve giving patients blood transfusions before a heart transplant to boost red blood cell counts. In Ms. Reid-Mensah's case, surgeons had her take a combination of intravenous iron and erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. They also limited the amount of blood draws she received prior to the surgery to preserve her blood count.

During the transplant, Ms. Reid-Mensah's blood was cycled within her body — maintained by an IV connection — instead being run through a heart-lung bypass machine as is traditionally done. 

 "The majority of transplant centers around the world have never done this before because they recognize the need to support the patient with blood products not just during the operation, but often before and after the operation as well," Greg Lewis, MD, medical director of the hospital's cardiac transplantation program, said in a news release. "However, our team feels an obligation to explore all possible ways to help patients in need of life-saving organ transplantation."

The transplant was a success, and Ms. Reid-Mensah has since been discharged.

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