'Heart in a Box' increases viability for donated organs

New technology is helping to save lives right in Central Florida. It’s called "Heart in a Box" and it’s making more heart transplants possible for the hundreds of patients currently in need of one in Florida.

More than 2,200 people in the country are on a waiting list for a heart transplant right now. The "Heart in a Box" technology is giving some of them new hope, by speeding up the wait time for those dire transplants.

Mark Canton, 71, of Cocoa Beach is one of just more than a dozen patients who received a transplant through the technology at AdventHealth. He said it saved his life.

"I’m an avid golfer. I love to fish. I kayak. I’m an active guy," Canton said. Active is how Canton describes most of his life. He was busy doing the things he loved with his wife Linda, until he had a heart attack in 2002.

"Suddenly I got really short of breath. And I got the tingling sensation in my fingertips," Canton said. 

Doctors diagnosed Canton with congestive heart failure and he had a bypass surgery, which helped for many years. But then in 2018, his heart problems started again. Canton said he was in and out of the hospital every month, and in December of last year, doctors told him he would need a heart transplant and it could take as long as six months on the waiting list for a match. 

Mark knew time wasn’t on his side.

"I was on a downward curve. I wasn’t going to get better. I was just going to get worse," Canton said. 

Little did he know, he would be getting a new heart just one month later. It’s all because of a machine called "Organ Care System," otherwise known as "heart in a box." 

It’s a machine that keeps the heart pumping outside the body to keep a donor heart viable for hours.

"Picture someone sliding and you’re standing there getting ready to catch them. This technology allowed us to catch him before he got into kidney failure before he got into shock," Dr. Scott Silvestry, surgical director of thoracic transplant programs at AdventHealth in Orlando, said. 

Before this, doctors used simple ice cooling to preserve donor hearts. That would only keep the heart viable for four to six hours. Now with the "Heart in a Box" hearts are viable for as long as 12 hours. 

Dr. Silvestry said it was used to fly a donor heart from Canada to Orlando for a patient in Central Florida.

"By keeping the hearts profused, we’re able to go further to use hearts to allow patients in Central Florida to receive transplants.:

Dr. Silvestry was the surgeon for Canton’s transplant. He said before this, doctors only used donor hearts from patients who were brain-dead. Now, they can use hearts from patients who died from cardiac death, because the "heart in a box" can revive the heart. That means more hearts will be available for more people. Dr. Silvestry said he expects it will more than double the number of heart transplants in the country.

One month after his heart transplant, Mark Canton in progressing well. He isn’t very active right now, but he’s able to take short walks with his wife. Soon, he’s excited to get back to doing some of the things he loves, like spending time with his two daughters and his grandchildren, and getting back to the active lifestyle that he’s missed for years.

"I asked doctor when we started this, I said ‘should I give away my golf clubs?’ And he said, ‘no. you’ll need them.’ I’ve been given a second chance at life. I was in a bad place," Canton said.

AdventHealth Orlando was one of the test sites for "heart in a box" in 2021. The FDA approved it later that year. The technology isn’t just available for hearts. The company that makes the Organ Care system for the heart, Trans Medics, also makes it for the lung and liver using the same idea of preservation.