Tag Archives: donor

HeArT TraNsPlaNt

13 Dec


I don’t even know where to begin. But I had THE most pivotal experience of my externship this past week! I was able to observe a heart transplant. The experience was nothing short of amazing! I am blown away that with man’s limited knowledge of the body and its functions that they are able to perform something as amazing as a heart transplant all the while keeping the patient alive. The whole process is something to see. They prep the patient, but don’t give them anesthesia until they know for a certainty that donor heart is a compatible match for the patient. A cardiothoracic surgeon travels to where the donor heart is examines it, and once he sees that it’s fit for the patient they take the donor heart and send word to the hospital that it’s a go.
Once that happens it’s a busy frenzy trying to prepare the patient. They strap the patient’s arms and legs down, chest is shaved, the eyes are taped, and a sheet is put over their head. The patient is given a host of anesthesia and every pressure possible is measured and noted. Packs of sterile tools are unwrapped and put in order for the surgeons. After about an hour of this the cardiothoracic surgeons come in. Even the way everybody puts the sterile gown and gloves on is intriguing. Nothing is touched to ruin the sterile environment. Then the surgeons start to cut. Electric knives buzz, and the smell of burning flesh permeates the air. This patient has previously had an open heart surgery so the sternum has already been cut so they just had to yank the wires holding it together (and when I say yank..I mean yank!). The chest is held open with a brace, and then all the riff raff surrounding the heart is removed. The surgeon invited me and another student to have a closer look and stand where the anesthesiologist stands. OMG! It was so crazy to stand that close and see them working on this heart trying to disconnect it from surrounding tissue, etc…The conversation was about non- essential stuff that had nothing to do with the patient or cardiology. Bing Crosby sings in the background “…it’s the most wonderful time of the year…”, as electric knifes blaze! A nurse notifies the surgeons that the donor heart will be here at 7pm. By 6:50pm the old heart is removed and the new heart was being delivered by the surgeon who went to inspect it. The gapping hole in the man’s chest is huge and when the Dr. puts his hand in he’s almost elbow deep in the mans chest. The heart and lung bypass was doing the work of the heart while it was being switched out.
The defective heart looked sad, dilated, and fatty, like a blob of jell-o with no will to live. The new heart was glistening and taunt, the size of a fist. It just looked young, vibrant and full of life.
I was allowed to hold the defective heart that was still warm with life. I studied the chambers, and the arteries. It was profound to hold something that was alive for over 50 years and then just stopped. An intrinsic quiver would randomly happen every so often as a reminder that it had once been the life force of this human.
I went home and put my hand on Z’s heart and felt it just beating. Life is such a beautiful thing!

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