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‘Heart Transplantation Day’ - August 3rd

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Exemplary heart transplant recipients: 

• Kelly Perkins climbs mountains around the world to promote positive awareness of organ donation. Perkins was the first recipient to climb the peaks of Mt Fuji, Mt Kilimanjaro, the Matterhorn, Mt Whitney, and Cajon de Arenales in Argentina in 2007, 12 years after her surgery.

• Twenty-two years after Dwight Kroening's heart transplant, he was the first recipient to finish an Ironman competition.

• Fiona Coote was the second Australian to receive a heart transplant in 1984 (at age 14) and the youngest Australian. In the 24 years after her transplant she became involved in publicity and charity work for the Red Cross and promoted organ donation in Australia.

• A 71-year-old in Australia is the oldest person in the world to undergo heart transplant. 

August 3rd   is a milestone in India’s medical history, as it was on this day in 1994 that a team of doctors, led by senior cardiac surgeon P Venugopal of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, performed the country’s first successful heart transplant on a 42-year-old patient. 

Since then the day is being celebrated as ‘Heart Transplantation Day" in India. Till date, over 100 heart transplants have been done in India, says Dr AGK Gokhale, who performed the first successful heart transplantation in Andhra Pradesh on 6th February 2004 at Global Hospitals, Hyderabad. 

Heart transplantation or cardiac transplantation is recommended by doctors in cases of heart failure; especially when the heart disease is advanced and medications no longer improve the patient’s condition, with the patient requiring frequent hospitalisation. Heart transplant removes a damaged or diseased heart and replaces it with a healthy one. The healthy heart comes from a donor who has died. 

It is recommended by doctors in patients who suffer from coronary artery disease (decreased blood supply to heart) or advanced valve problems or those related to birth defects which were not treated in time or due to cardiomyopathy (a condition where heart muscle fails to work and the causes are not known). 

For some patients, heart transplant is the only alternative. The patient's own heart is either removed (orthotopic procedure) or less commonly, left in place to support the donor heart (heterotopic procedure). Post-operation survival periods average 15 years, says Dr Gokhale

Survival of cardiac transplant recipients has improved due to improvements in treatments suppressing the immune systems and preventing infection. 

The world's first human heart transplant was performed by Dr Christiaan Barnard on a man called Louis Washkansky in 1967. Today, more than 3,500 cardiac transplants are performed annually the world over. It is the last resort for people with heart failure when all other treatments have failed. Heart transplants are now the third most common organ transplant operation in the US.

In USA, about 800,000 people have severe heart failure, many of them ending in waiting lists for heart transplantation. This disparity spurred research into the transplantation of non-human hearts into humans after 1993. Xenografts (heart taken from species other than human beings) from other species and man-made artificial hearts are two less successful alternatives to allografts (heart from same species-human beings). 

The patient who underwent the first heart transplant in human beings in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard survived the operation and lived 18 days. The world's longest living heart transplant recipient is Tony Huesman who survived 31 years. 

He received a heart in 1978 at the age of 20, after viral pneumonia severely weakened his heart. Huesman died on August 10, 2009 of cancer. He was operated at Stanford University under the heart transplant pioneer Dr Norman Shumway. Most of the research that led to successful heart transplantation took place in the United States at Stanford University under the leadership of Dr Norman Shumway. 

These amazing people prove that, with determination and the power of the human spirit, it is possible to make it through the heart transplant process and live life fully. Most of us take it for granted that we have a healthily functioning heart. Despite the various advancements and improvements in treatment options, heart disease still remains one of the biggest killers.