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Infant Heart Transplant Controversy Continues
Date:8/13/2008

3 new reports raise question of how long a heart must stop beating before death is certain,,,,

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Three new reports challenge current guidelines on how long after cardiac death doctors must wait before taking a heart from an infant organ donor.

There's no question that organ donation saves lives, and there's also no question that there aren't enough donor organs to save everyone on the transplant list. However, deciding who is a suitable organ donor, particularly when the potential donor is an infant, is not so clear-cut.

Most people are familiar with the concept of organ donation after brain death, but organ donation is also permissible after cardiac death. Cardiac death occurs after life support is withdrawn, and the heart stops on its own. Because the heart can sometimes restart, the Institute of Medicine recommended in 1997 that 5 minutes should elapse between the time the heart stops and the organ retrieval begins. More recently, however, it's been suggested that cardiac death becomes irreversible after just one minute.

Now, in the Aug. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, surgeons from Denver Children's Hospital report on three cases in infant heart donors where surgeons reduced the time between when the heart stopped and when organ retrieval began. In one case, the time was shortened to three minutes, and in the other two to just 75 seconds.

The reason doctors might want to shorten this interval is to reduce the time that transplantable organs are deprived of oxygen, which likely increases the success of transplants. Doing so might also help increase the number of available organs for donations, which is important because as many as one in four babies awaiting a heart transplant dies while on the waiting list, according to the study.

"Donors who died from cardiocirculatory causes offer an opportunity to reduce waiting time and waiti
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