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World first reanimated heart transplants by Royal Papworth and Great Ormond Street hospitals save six teen lives



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The Royal Papworth Hospital teamed up with Great Ormond Street Hospital to give children new hearts which had been brought back to life by a ground-breaking machine.

The two hospitals collaborated on the breakthrough – a world first – to save the lives of six teenagers in 2020.

The Royal Papworth DCD paediatric team Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital
The Royal Papworth DCD paediatric team Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital

The technique, known as donation after circulatory death (DCD), involves hearts being reanimated and kept beating outside a human body until they are ready for transplanting.

Donated hearts have historically come from people who are brain-dead but whose hearts are still beating, which limits the scope for the number of transplants possible. DCD allows more hearts to be used and gives surgeons and nurses more time.

The technique was first performed in Europe at Papworth in 2015 but has, until recently, only been possible in adults.

The first patient to receive a DCD heart thanks to the partnership was 15-year-old Anna Hadley.

Anna Hadley, the first patient to receive a heart transplant using the technique, 15 days after surgery Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital
Anna Hadley, the first patient to receive a heart transplant using the technique, 15 days after surgery Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital

Anna was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy after collapsing during a PE class two months earlier.

The rare condition meant that the muscles in the lower chambers of her heart, the ventricles, were becoming stiff and could not fill with blood properly, which affected the blood flow to the rest of her body and heart.

After an assessment at GOSH, the family was told that Anna’s best chance of getting well again was to receive a heart transplant.

Andrew Hadley, Anna’s dad, said: “After weighing-up the potential risks and benefits of the DCD heart transplant with a more conventional one, we realised that there was only one choice, and we’re so glad we made it. Five days after the transplant, Anna was walking up and down the corridors chatting away and high-fiving staff. It was incredible.”

Freya Heddington, the second patient to receive a transplant using the technique Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital
Freya Heddington, the second patient to receive a transplant using the technique Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital

Royal Papworth’s team retrieves the heart and GOSH’s team implants the organ.

Marius Berman, surgical lead for transplantation at Royal Papworth, said: “We have taken our experience of performing DCD heart transplants on adults during the past five years and collaborated with GOSH to introduce this programme into clinical use within paediatric transplantation.

“No one else in the world is currently doing this. It’s been an incredible multi-institutional and multidisciplinary team effort to make this possible, involving everyone from the specialist nurses in organ donation and retrieval, transplant co-ordinators, physicians and surgeons.

“Above all, none of this would be possible without the generosity of every donor and their families.

The DCD machine. Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital
The DCD machine. Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital

“Truly, it showcases the best of the NHS and what can be achieved when we come together for the benefit of our patients.”

The six transplants came from adult donors because the organ care system can accommodate hearts from donors weighing more than 50kg (eight stone).

Royal Papworth and GOSH are now developing a new piece of technology which they hope will mean they can retrieve hearts in the same way from children.

DCD machine Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital
DCD machine Picture: Supplied by Royal Papworth Hospital

If successful, it could increase the number of organs available for infants and even babies, where there is a desperate shortage.

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