Linda J. Bogar, MD, is board certified in thoracic and cardiac surgery.
This month, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first heart transplant ever performed on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus. Among those celebrating are retired cardiothoracic surgeon Edward Lefrak, MD, who performed that first transplant in 1986, and the patient who received it – one of only a dozen heart transplant recipients nationwide who have lived more than 25 years since their lifesaving surgery.
As if that’s not enough to celebrate, the Inova Lung Transplant program will turn 25 in 2017. These dual anniversaries make this a great time to reflect on what the Inova Transplant Center has accomplished in the last three decades – and to consider how we can make our programs even better in the decades to come.
Creating a Transplant Program
Thirty years ago, organ transplants were still pretty new in the United States. Dr. Lefrak wanted to start a transplant program at Inova, and he had an impressive ally – Dr. Christiaan Bernard, the South African surgeon who performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967.
Dr. Bernard actually accompanied Dr. Lefrak to Washington, DC, to lobby for a “certificate of need,” which would allow surgeons to perform heart transplants at Inova.
Still, after receiving the okay to go ahead, Lefrak and his team weren’t quite sure what to expect. After that first transplant, many of them stayed at the hospital around the clock for several days, not wanting to stray too far from their patient! But that patient did and is doing very well, and the program has become a great success.
Five years later, Inova added a lung transplant program, and thanks to generous organ donors and our skilled team, we have given the gift of life to hundreds of heart and lung transplant patients.
Transplant Science Evolves
Things have changed a lot since the first years of heart and lung transplants. As our programs have grown, we’ve developed a much more team-based approach to transplants. Today, we have a dedicated team that includes cardiologists, surgeons, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers and others.
Medical science has also advanced significantly over these last three decades. For example, after receiving organ transplants, patients must take medications called immunosuppressant drugs to prevent their bodies from rejecting their new organ. Today, we have better drug options, so organ rejection is less common than it used to be.
Looking to the Future
In the next 30 years, we hope to continue to develop our program to help even more patients. Currently, we perform about 20 heart transplants and 20 lung transplants each year. We’d like to grow those numbers. To do that, we hope to work with more community hospitals to increase referrals for heart failure patients.
We also want to continue to improve the quality of our care by incorporating new technologies. For instance, we now offer many heart failure patients a ventricular assist device (VAD), a mechanical pump that can help them survive until a heart becomes available for transplant. We’re also testing newer VAD devices that we hope will be even better at improving care and quality of life for our patients.
Additionally, we’re exploring new technologies and guidelines that might allow us to acquire lungs from a broader range of possible donors. For instance, we are considering a new system that can actually improve lung tissue after it has been removed from a donor, making it more suitable for transplant.
Ultimately, our goal is to make more organ transplants available to the people who need them and to ensure those patients receive the very best care.
Learn more about the Inova Transplant Center, the most active transplant program in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, area.