TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital announced a major breakthrough in lung transplant surgery at its annual press conference on Friday (March 12).
Dr. Hsu Hsao-hsun (徐紹勛), head of NTU Hospital’s cardiovascular surgery unit, provided details of an operation last year on a 37-year-old brain-dead organ donor. The operation was the first domestic lung harvesting operation after a donor's heart had stopped beating since 2017, when the practice was legalized.
Hsu said the donor’s heart stopped because of a sudden heart attack. The transplant team continued to massage the heart for 11 minutes and poured ice water into the chest and abdomen, before the lungs, liver, kidneys, and other organs were removed, as per UDN.
“Organ transplants are a race against time,” Hsu was quoted as saying. NTU Hospital had created history, increased the source of lung donations, and improved the chance for more lung transplant candidates to survive, Hsu said.
The procedure was conducted without the use of extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), according to CNA. This provides support to individuals whose heart and lungs are unable to produce enough oxygen to sustain life.
Hsu added that hospital protocols prevented him from saying exactly when the procedure took place. The pair of lungs went to a patient at NTU and the liver to an individual at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.
According to Ministry of Health and Welfare guidelines, in December 2017, doctors cannot harvest organs until after the heart has stopped for five minutes and there is circulatory death.
Since the new guidelines, around a dozen organ donations after circulatory death have taken place in Taiwan. However, lungs are more difficult than other organs to preserve once the heart stops — hence the significance of Hsu's breakthrough operation.
Also present at the news conference was former DPP legislator Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳), who received a lung transplant at NTU Hospital last year, from a brain-dead donor.
Previously, a smoker of four packs a day for 50 years, Tsai called on Taiwanese to give up tobacco. It's a killer of lungs and people, he said.
The 66-year-old had been on the waiting list for a lung transplant for three years. Hardly able to breathe and close to death he decided to get baptized. Just two days later, however, he was given notice that his transplant could go ahead.
“I was excited to breathe,” said a grateful Tsai.