In a heartbeat: Doctors, police rush donated heart from Hanoi to Saigon

By Le Phuong   March 19, 2018 | 09:04 pm PT
In a heartbeat: Doctors, police rush donated heart from Hanoi to Saigon
Doctors in Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC perform an operation to transplant a donated heart on February 26. Photo supplied by the hospital
They had six hours to take the heart from one body and put it in another a thousand miles away.

A young man at Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City is walking around all by himself, with a strong, beating heart that had to go on an extraordinary journey to get to him.

The 29-year-old received the heart from a donor a thousand miles away in Hanoi, and hundreds of doctors, aviation staff and traffic police had to race against time to make the delivery.

The donor died after a road crash at the 108 Military Central Hospital in Hanoi on February 25. His family offered to donate his organs, and the procedure was carried out the next day.

The patient in Cho Ray, who suffered from a heart muscle disease that could have caused deadly heart failure, was selected for the heart. He had been receiving treatment for five years but had refused to undergo a heart transplant twice because he could not afford the fee of around VND300 million ($13,200).

This time, his doctors insisted it was necessary, and the hospital offered him a discount while looking for donors to pay the rest.

They had six hours to get the heart to the transplant table, doctors said, sharing the story for the first time on Monday as the recipient was recovering.

Doctors removed the heart from the donor at around noon on February 26, and then rushed to Noi Bai Airport where they were booked on a flight leaving at 2 p.m.

The escort team arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport at 4 p.m. where an ambulance was already waiting for them. Traffic police escorted them to Cho Ray Hospital around 10 kilometers away in just 15 minutes, despite the heavy traffic.

At 7:15 p.m., the heart started beating in the body of its new owner, and two hours later, the operation was complete.

The heart recipient walks on the corridor of Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Le Phuong

The heart recipient in Cho Ray Hospital, HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Le Phuong

The lungs, cornea and one kidney from the Hanoi donor were given to four other patients in the capital, while the other kidney was also transported to Cho Ray to treat a 25-year-old woman.

Doctors said the transplants were the second and third that involved transnational deliveries in Vietnam.

In September 2015, the heart and the liver of a donor in Cho Ray were transported to two patients in Hanoi.

Pham Thi Ngoc Thao, deputy director of Cho Ray Hospital, said the race “was emotional every time.”

Organ donation is not popular in Vietnam, where many people strongly believe they need all their body parts for the afterlife. But the country has received a wave of donor registrations thanks to the inspiring story of 7-year-old girl in Hanoi who gave up her cornea last month. The girl, who died of a rare brain tumor, had wanted to donate all her organs but Vietnamese laws only allow hospitals to take the cornea from patients under 18 years old.

Figures from the health ministry show that Vietnamese doctors have only performed around 1,500 organ transplants since 1992. That left more than 16,000 patients suffering from heart, kidney, liver and lung diseases and more than 6,000 blind people awaiting donations.

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