Every year, Columbia University Medical Center performs approximately 100 heart and over 60 lung transplants, making it the largest center for hearts and among the largest for lungs in the country. The CTS Lab performs a critical role in the procurement of these organs from sites across eastern North America — from Canada in the north to Puerto Rico and Florida to the south and east, and into the Midwest.
When an organ becomes available for transplantation, a Research Fellow and a RA, together with a heart or lung procurement surgeon from Columbia, travel to the donor hospital, usually by jet, to determine the suitability of the organ and communicate with the surgeon at Columbia. While most hearts are accepted, Columbia rejects 40% of the lungs that it evaluates, reflecting the team's commitment to quality control. If the organ is accepted, the team extracts it and transports it on ice as rapidly as possible back to the operating suite for implantation into the recipient.
The heart transplant, first performed by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard in 1967, is performed on some patients in heart failure as a last resort if all other treatments are unsuccessful. Similarly, patients whose lung function is severely compromised and for whom other options have been exhausted may be eligible for a single or double lung transplant. In either case, transplantation can dramatically increase the quality and length of a patient's life.
Donors for these transplants are brain dead, having suffered an irreversible end to their brain function. However, their body is kept functioning on a ventilator in order to keep the organs perfused with blood and viable for transplantation. The deceased donor or their family makes the choice to gift the organs.
The CT Lab team serves on several types of organ procurement, including:
- Adult and pediatric heart
- Adult and pediatric single and double lungs
- Heart-lung: This rare procedure is performed on those patients who require both a heart and a lung transplant simultaneously due to extensive damage to both organs.