PATIENTS desperately waiting for a heart transplant are benefitting from ground-breaking technology being used to keep a donor heart beating for up to eight hours.

Surgeons at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital are now able to use the ex-vivo perfusion system thanks to the generous donation and fundraising efforts of regional charity CHUF (Children’s Heart Unit Fund). And their specialist work was filmed for the very first time and featured in a BBC2 documentary – “Heart Transplant: A Chance to Live” earlier this month.

The revolutionary new system allows surgeons at one of Europe’s leading transplant centres to carry out lifesaving transplants for some of the sickest and most challenging patients on the organ waiting list.

And it has been described as 'a game changer' in particular for complex patients who either have a congenital heart problem, have had a VAD (ventricular assisted device) fitted as either a bridge to recovery or transplant, or are in need of another heart transplant.

“We have seen the number of complex cases rise in the last four to five years as we develop new ways of treating our patients," says cardiothoracic and transplant surgeon Fabrizio de Rita.

“It can take three to four hours just to prepare complex congenital heart patient for their surgery before we even think about starting the transplant itself, some of them requiring at the same time corrective surgery to accommodate a normal heart, so the time pressures are even more critical.

“The OCS takes this pressure away and has opened that all important window to at least eight hours. There is much evidence now that using this system improves outcomes for our sickest recipients on the waiting list.”

The new approach means donor hearts are kept at body temperature, and in a functioning state, as if it were still in the body. By keeping the heart working, it remains as healthy as possible, and enables the specialist organ donor retrieval team to constantly clinically assess the heart during its journey to a waiting recipient in the operating theatre.

Mr de Rita adds: “We very much hope the new system will help us to transplant more patients and that because of the benefits of the OCS they will require less time on intensive care, and are less likely to experience post-transplant heart failure. This technology will also expand the heart donor pool, giving also us the possibility to retrieve donor’s heart with marginal function and improve them while on the machine, otherwise being unusable.”

CHUF, who celebrate their 35th anniversary this year, provide support for babies, children and their families at the Children’s Heart Unit at Freeman Hospital and an additional six district general hospitals in the northern region. The outstanding raising efforts of two families united in daunting times, and their quest to make a difference, have enabled CHUF to support the arrival of this innovative technology to Newcastle.

Chris Gray, chief executive for CHUF says: “We work extremely closely with the team at Freeman Hospital and are always looking at new ways to support their life-changing care. So we are delighted to have the opportunity to see this revolutionary technology and be able to show our hundreds of supporters how their mighty fundraising efforts are being put to great use.”

The charity has raised more than £10m for the Freeman Hospital since its inception, funding vital equipment, salaries and research. Chris adds: “We are incredibly fortunate to have so many like-minded supporters who work tirelessly to raise funds for CHUF. To see where their money is put to use is immensely satisfying. We wish to take this opportunity to thank all who continue to support our amazing charity.”

One of those key supporters is Graham Wylie who has raised significant funds over many years through annual golf days and scores of other events. His daughter Kiera underwent life-saving surgery at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital when she was young and has remained a huge supporter of the Children’s Heart Unit ever since.

Another family to take up the fundraising challenge is Sergio and Emma Petrucci, whose daughter Luna required major heart surgery three years ago to correct congenital defects in her heart. Since then, they have raised well over two hundred thousand pounds for CHUF through their Red Sky Balls and other fundraising events.

CHUF can be contacted on 0191-281-3166 or