NHS doctors have reportedly become the first in the world to complete heart transplants in children using organs brought back to life by a ground-breaking machine.
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.
But the Sunday Times says surgeons from the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire and their counterparts at Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) have been able to make hearts start beating again after they had stopped, and successfully transplanted them into children.
The doctors have used a heart-in-a-box machine called the Organ Care System to bring the hearts back to life once removed from the donor.
The machine replicates the conditions of the human body.
Once a defibrillation pulse is used to start the hearts beating again, they are kept warm and have 1.5 litres of the donor’s blood pumped through them in a cycle, and receive nutrients.
Doctors are also able to regulate the heart rate by remote control if necessary.
The hearts have then been flown to London for transplanting at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the newspaper reported.
The technique had been tried in adults before, but has now saved the lives of six British children aged between 12 and 16 since last February, all of whom had life-threatening conditions.
On average, children have to wait two-and-a-half times longer than adults for hearts to become available.
The breakthrough is expected to allow a substantial expansion in the number of donor hearts available, reduce post-operation complications, speed recoveries, increase transplant survival rates and save hundreds of lives, the paper says.
The first patient to benefit from the procedure was Anna Hadley, now 16, from Worcester, who had waited almost two years for her heart transplant.
“I just feel normal again. There’s nothing I cannot do now,” she told the paper.
Dr John Forsythe, medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “This new technique will save lives both here and around the world.
“It means people can donate their hearts where it wouldn’t have been possible in the past, giving life to patients on the waiting list.”