Doctors perform Hong Kong's first successful transplant for acute heart attack patient

Doctors from Queen Mary Hospital perform Hong Kong's first successful transplant on a patient fighting for his life after an acute heart attack

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 4:13am

A man in his 40s has become the first victim of an acute heart attack in Hong Kong to be saved by a transplant.

A donor heart became available just in time to save the man, who was being kept alive by artificial pumps after he suffered a massive heart attack last month and previous attempts at an operation had failed.

Most heart transplants in Hong Kong are done on patients with chronic heart disease or non-acute heart attack cases. An acute heart attack is fatal in 60 to 80 per cent of cases.

"Most of [those who suffer an acute heart attack] cannot be saved," Dr Timmy Au Wing-kuk, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, said after conducting the operation on the man yesterday.

"The success in this case is partly because of advancements in technology."

The heart donor was a man in his 50s who died of a brain haemorrhage. He also donated two kidneys.

The recipient was in stable condition last night.

The man had been admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei in mid-December after suffering chest pains.

Doctors found that two of his three major heart arteries were fully blocked while the third was 90 per cent obstructed. His blood pressure was so low that he had kidney failure. Doctors performed a balloon angioplasty - in which an inflatable device is inserted to open the artery - on the man, but his heart function remained very poor.

He was put on temporary artificial lung support to stabilise his blood pressure, and then transferred to Queen Mary Hospital.

Doctors there tried to perform a bypass operation on him, but failed because his blood vessels were too narrow.

They then gave him external mechanical pumps for the left and right sides of his heart on December 18.

But the pumps could be used for up to six months only, and came with the risk of infections and other complications.

Au said it would have been particularly difficult for the family if the man had died because he was the breadwinner.

The case was special because it was possible for the man to be kept alive by artificial means until a heart became available, he said. Acute heart attack patients did not usually survive the long wait for a heart because there were few donors.

Last year, there were only nine heart transplants performed in Hong Kong, down from 17 in 2012. More than 20 people are in the queue.

There have already been many cases of transplants in acute heart attack cases in other places, including in Taiwan.

This was because Taiwan's technique in using artificial lung support was more mature and it also had more organ donors, Au said. Taiwan's doctors perform between 80 and 100 heart transplants each year.