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uOttawa Heart Institute celebrating 40 years of its first heart transplant

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The University of Ottawa Heart Institute celebrated Wednesday the 40th anniversary of the first life-saving heart transplant.

It happened on May 29, 1984.

The celebration comes as the Heart Institute gears up to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Dr. Hadi Toeg is an Ottawa native, and cardiac surgeon. He's also the surgical director of Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the Heart Institute.

Dr. Toeg was just born when the hospital started performing transplants four decades ago, and he believes the medical team is a big part of the program’s success.

"There are a lot of people that are heavily involved and invested in the care of these patients," said Toeg. "But also patients and the patients’ families themselves."

Thanks to advances in the field, the Heart Institute says, patients are living longer and with a better quality of life.

"We see patients that can live for as long as 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years after transplant, which is really unheard of in the transplant community as a whole," said Toeg.

Since the program started, The Heart Institute has completed 738 transplants. The typical procedure lasts about six hours, with eight to nine members on the medical team in an operating room. Heart transplant recipients survive an average of 15 years after their operation. Thirty-five years is the longest a patient has survived with a single transplant from The Heart Institute.

Jeffery Gleeson was born with two serious heart conditions. In 1989, at just six-weeks-old, he underwent a critical heart transplant at the Heart Institute. At 34, he's currently the longest-living survivor of the program.

"It’s really a privilege to work with some of these patients down the road and just see where they've gone with their lives," said Kyla Brown, the Heart Institute's transplant coordinator.

When a heart becomes available, Brown says, it can come with mixed emotions.

While one family has just lost a loved one, another family gets the call they have been waiting for.

"Sometimes, we may have a couple days, other times we may have under 12 hours. We need to make sure the operating team is going to be available, and we call the patient in. That's a big call to make to a patient. It’s a lot of nerves and excitement for them, but a lot of worry as well," Brown said.

Technology at the Heart Institute is constantly evolving. They are currently looking to expand their donor pool with a specialized system called the TransMedics Organ Care System. Toeg describes the device as "a heart in a box, where we basically take the heart and we put it into a machine and we perfused the heart. We actually get it to beat out of body."

The device would also allow organs to be transported at a controlled temperature, and from anywhere across the country.

"We let (the heart) beat and we can actually watch it and see how it works. We can assess its function and decide whether or not it would be a good fit for the recipient," added Toeg.

The Heart Institute says, on average, over 100 patients are on the waiting list to receive a heart transplant in Canada.

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