Abu Dhabi hospital carries out country's first full heart transplant

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi team operated on 38-year-old Emirati who was close to heart failure

Surgeons have successfully carried out the country's first full heart transplant on an Emirati patient with late-stage heart disease.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi on Thursday described the procedure as a landmark moment for transplant medicine in the UAE.

The 24-member multidisciplinary Heart Failure and Transplant team had prepared for its first heart transplant for the past two years.

A change in the law earlier this year made transplants from dead donors legal for the first time.

In addition to the heart patient, two others received other organs from the deceased donor. One was a child at Seha's Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, who received one of the donor's kidneys.

Doctors said all three patients had virtually no chance of survival and had been on transplant lists for some time.

Dr Feras Bader, director of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Heart Failure and Transplant Programme, said the team had just 48 hours to prepare.


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“I was called about the donor 48 hours before the transplant surgery. It was the same day that the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant in 1967, and also the day the UAE was celebrating its 46th National Day," he said.

"It’s a remarkable coincidence and one that shows the incredible progress this nation has made.”

Surgery took place on the evening of December 5 and into the early hours of the following morning.

It was performed by a four-person surgical team that included Dr Rakesh Suri, acting CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Dr Johannes Bonatti, chief of the Heart and Vascular Institute, Dr Stefan Sanger, a clinical associate; and Dr Jehad Al Ramahi, another clinical associate.

The patient is a 38-year-old man who had 'end-stage' heart failure and had been on the transplant programme for almost six months.

Ninety minutes after the heart was harvested and immediately after transplantation, it began beating again.

He is currently recovering from the surgery.

“The UAE has taken important strides in introducing new legislation to support transplant operations in 2017, and we are very proud that Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is the first and only multi-organ transplant facility in the country," said Dr Bonatti.

"After two years of sophisticated training and preparation, our team was fully prepared to undertake and excel in performing this innovative series of operations.

"The donor heart started beating immediately after implantation and the heart patient was taken to the intensive care unit after six hours in the operating room.”

Also on the same night, another surgeon performed a kidney transplant from the same donor.

Dr Suri also said the operation "underlines the incredible social impact that our transplant services are having – thanks to one donor, we have transformed the lives of multiple patients and their families".

The transplant was only the third from a deceased donor since the new law came in. The first was carried out at Al Qasimi Hospital and second at Fujairah Hospital.

Dr Ali AbdulKareem Al Obaidli, chair of the National Transplant Committee, said the identity of the donor will be kept private, but he thanked the family, emphasising that three lives were saved.

“Despite their difficult time, they opted to participate in saving the lives of patients with organ failure," he said.

As The National reported in June, staff at five hospitals have been trained to approach the families of patients who pass away and ask if their relative would donate his or her organs.

The move is part of a broader drive to establish a national transplant list, which UAE nationals and expats can opt in to.

“The culture of organ donation is strong among UAE nationals and expats, as 68 per cent of individuals surveyed indicated they support organ donation and this is not surprising due to the prevailing culture of donation that the UAE gained from the founder of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan," added Dr Al Obaidli.