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Doctors Recycle Transplanted Heart into Third Patient

February 3, 1993

BOSTON (AP) _ Surgeons worried about the shortage of hearts available for transplants have found one solution - recycling.

In a medical journal, they describe an unusual case in which a heart transplant patient died a few days after his operation. Doctors took out new his heart and put it into another patient.

As a result, one heart has beat inside three different people.

Hearts are in critically short supply. In the United States, about 2,000 patients need new hearts each month, but only 100 operations are done because of the lack of hearts for transplants.

The recycling approach was tried by doctors from University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland.

″This extraordinary case suggests an unorthodox method of alleviating the organ shortage,″ wrote Dr. Miralem Pasic and others in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The doctors acknowledged that recycling is unlikely to make much impact on the shortage, since transplant patients rarely die suddenly with still-healthy hearts.

″Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that this twice transplanted heart functioned well in three people,″ the doctors commented.

The heart came from a 20-year-old man who had shot himself in the head. First, doctors implanted the heart into a 47-year-old man with a failing heart. The surgery went well, but the patient suffered a stroke five days after the operation and died a week later.

Tests showed the heart was still healthy. So the doctors asked another patient on the hospital’s waiting list if he wanted it. This patient, a 58- year-old man, agreed, and the operation went smoothly.

A year later, the third owner of the heart ″is fully active, without limitations on his daily activity,″ the doctors wrote.

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