New technology changes transplants by keeping organs functioning outside body

Metro Detroit woman receives liver transplant with new technology

DETROIT - It's a breakthrough that could make more lifesaving organs available, and a Waterford great-grandmother is one of the first in the world to benefit from it.

"Somebody had to do it, so I guess it was better me than anybody else," Eva Quick said.

In spite of all the advances in medicine, donated organs are generally transported in an ordinary cooler. But that's changing, as a new high-tech option is being tested at a Metro Detroit hospital.

It's called the Transmedics "organ care system." Instead of packing the donated organ on ice, the device allows it to keep functioning outside the body while it makes the lifesaving journey from the donor to the recipient.

"I was the first person to have this done, and I jumped on it," Quick said. "I said, 'Yes.'"

Suffering from liver failure, Quick didn't hesitate when doctors at Henry Ford Hospital asked if she wanted to participate in the study for the new organ-care system.

"It was like, 'OK here's my chance,' and it was great," Quick said.

Video shows Quick's new liver being transported -- not in the traditional cooler, but in the new high-tech device.

The organ-care system pumps warm blood through the organ, along with medicine and other fluids to reduce potential damage and give transplant surgeons the opportunity to see the liver in action.

"We can profuse it," Dr. Michael Rizzari said. "It gets oxygen. It gets nutrients. We can actually monitor the function and check labs on it."

As it's transported, the liver actually continues to make bile, which is an essential fluid that helps the body digest fats and remove waste products from the blood.

"It kind of gives us a real-time assessment of how the organ is doing and if it's sustainable to put into a recipient," Rizzari said.

That means surgeons might be able to accept more organs for transplant, and ultimately save more lives. It could also potentially extend the time the liver could safely be in transit.

Henry Ford has used the organ-care system with six patients so far. They've noticed those recipients seem to do better at that critical moment when blood flow is restored to the liver.

"It's the time that if things go wrong, that's typically when they go wrong," Rizzari said. "The six that we've done with the machine, this machine, have just gone very smoothly."

The study is still ongoing, but doctors are encouraged by what they've seen.

"I think this is a real game-changer in many ways," Rizzari said.

Quick is still suffering from COPD and needs oxygen, but her new liver is working well.

"I feel 100 percent better," Quick said. "It's amazing, you know, because my liver, the doctors said everything matched up perfectly. He said he couldn't have had a better match."

Quick is grateful for the high-tech help, but most of all, to her organ donor and that person's family.

"Thank them very much for it," Quick said. "I just want to stay around for my great-grandkids to come up, you know?"

Quick has 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Henry Ford started the clinical trial along with Massachusetts General about a year and a half ago. Quick was the first patient in Michigan, and just the eighth in the world to receive a liver transported with the new technology.

The device can also transport hearts and lungs.

You can hear much more about Quick's story and the future of organ transplants on the next episode of Minds of Medicine, which airs at 8 p.m. Thursday.

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