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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Baptist Health has a new way to transplant donor hearts and give transplant patients a better chance at life.

The SherpaPak is the latest way for doctors to get donor hearts to and from their patients.

“As few donor hearts as there are for a recipient these days, we have to make the best use of them,” said Dr. John Ransom, program director of the Baptist Health Transplant Institute.

Dr. Ransom said it definitely beats the old way of doing things.

“We used to put it in an ice pack surrounding the bag of fluid, and that was pretty good, but it wasn’t accurate,” Dr. Ransom said.

“We know that organs stored on ice tend to drop below the temperature we want,” said Dr. Carol Moody, director of surgery at Baptist Health Transplant Institute.

Dr. Moody said that could cause problems with an organ that is already difficult to obtain.

“Parts of the organ can freeze, and freezing the cell is irreversible damage to the cell,” Dr. Moody said.

The new device, although it also looks like a cooler, protects donor hearts both physically and thermally by using a rigid container system that completely suspends the heart in a pressure-controlled environment that maintains temperature for more than 40 hours.

“This makes the heart very soft and pliable and more like its natural state, so when we take it out, it holds up better,” Dr. Ransom said.

He said it has already been clinically proven to not only produce better results for the actual transplant, but years later.

“In medicine, we all work toward exactly one goal: to help people,” Dr. Moody said.

SherpaPak is another tool to do that, he said.

“It’s great that this technology is here,” Dr. Moody said.

Baptist Health is the only adult heart transplant institute in Arkansas. They performed the first heart transplant in the state in 1989. in November. Since then, Baptist Health has performed 316 life-saving heart transplants.

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