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Event celebrates Vanderbilt heart transplant program’s achievements

Jun. 22, 2017, 9:06 AM

Patients, faculty and staff gathered in Langford Auditorium on June 12 to celebrate Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s (VUMC) milestone 1,000th heart transplant.

VUMC is home to the second-busiest heart transplant program in the country and ranked No. 1 in the Southeast region for volume for its combined adult and pediatric procedures.

Bill First, M.D., left, and C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., were among those on hand for last week’s event celebrating Vanderbilt’s heart transplant program. (photo by Joe Howell)

A consistent theme that speakers attributed to the success of the heart transplantation program was collaboration.

“The momentum of collaboration and the environment of collaboration has been a theme of transplantation success at Vanderbilt,” said Bill Frist, M.D., former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Vanderbilt Transplant Center founder, during his address at the event. “The team approach to care, the teams that wrap themselves around our patients — that collaborative team approach has saved so many lives.”

The adult heart transplant program started in 1985. It was followed by the opening of the pediatric heart transplant program in 1987. Since its inception, the program has seen tremendous growth.

“We have a truly stellar transplant team that delivers the highest quality of care available anywhere in the world,” said C. Wright Pinson, M.D., MBA, Deputy CEO and Chief Health Systems Officer for VUMC. “It is an enormous achievement to be among only a handful of transplant programs in the nation to earn this distinction. For our program to be so successful, each and every person’s contributions are essential.”

Attendees not only heard about the 32-year history of heart transplantation at Vanderbilt, but also got a glimpse of the future of the program.

Ashish Shah, M.D., professor of Cardiac Surgery and surgical director of the adult heart transplant program at VUMC, shared with the crowd that Vanderbilt is poised to move the program to the next level.

For 50 years, surgeons have used cold storage methods to preserve the heart following procurement in preparation for transplantation. But Shah introduced another option for organ storage and transport — ex vivo thoracic organ perfusion.

“For many of you, your heart was retrieved and placed on ice and delivered back here to Nashville,” said Shah. “That system has worked for a long time. But what if we let the heart continue beating? If we were able to take the time element out of the equation, what possibilities open up?”

According to Shah, a clinical trial of 130 patients showed similar outcomes for standard cold storage vs ex-vivo perfusion.

Now Vanderbilt will be among five centers in the United States exploring this newest technology.

“This is a huge commitment on the part of this institution,” said Shah. “I am really inspired by the possibilities. There are only a few institutions in the world that are really set up to move forward with this technology and I think we are one of those places.”

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