An electrician from Illogan has become one of the first patients in the UK to have a revolutionary non-beating heart transplant.

Lee Hall, 26, had the new procedure at Harefield Hospital in north-west London, one of the world’s leading heart and lung transplant centres. Until recently, all donated hearts in the UK were from donors declared brain dead, but who still had blood pumping around their bodies. However, a pioneering new method of organ retrieval, which has so far only been carried out a small number of times in the UK, means surgeons can now also consider hearts for transplantation from donors whose hearts have stopped beating, in what is known as circulatory death. This is when both the heart and lungs have stopped working.

Previously an organ donor who had succumbed to circulatory death could donate some other organs, such as the kidney and liver, but not the heart. Consequently, many more patients in desperate need of a heart transplant will undergo the life-saving procedure. According to specialist transplant clinicians at Harefield Hospital, the new development has the potential to increase heart transplantation by around 30 per cent in the UK. At present, Harefield and Papworth Hospital in Cambridge are the only transplant centres in the UK to carry out non-beating heart transplants.

Lee, who lives with his wife Danyelle and their one-year-old son Hayden, developed heart failure at 14. This was linked to chemotherapy he had as a small child to treat leukaemia. Initially drugs improved his heart’s function, but at 20 he became frequently breathless and tired at work. He was referred to Harefield Hospital and fitted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical heart pump often used to keep patients alive and enable them to leave hospital while they wait for a transplant.

Lee remained in relatively good health for five years, however, earlier this year he was put on the urgent transplant list as his health deteriorated and was asked if he would be happy to receive a non-beating heart.

He said: “I had previously read about this type of donated heart online so I was very happy to have one. A couple of days later a suitable non-beating heart became available and I had the transplant. I’m grateful that I’ve been cared for at Harefield where this type of heart transplant is possible – without it I’d probably still be waiting for a new heart. It is hard to accept that someone has died for you to carry on living and I’d like to thank my donor and their family for making this possible.”

Lee was discharged in July after a successful recovery. “I didn’t see my son during the time I was at Harefield which was very hard, so he was my motivation for going home as soon as possible," he said. "I’m looking forward to kicking a ball around with him. It’s a huge relief not having the prospect of a transplant hanging over me anymore.”

In order for the heart of a donor who has died a circulatory death to be suitable for transplantation, it must be resuscitated by pumping warm oxygenated blood through the heart muscle. The transplant team at Harefield Hospital has achieved this by using organ retrieval technology, known as the Organ Care System (OCS).

The OCS, sometimes referred to as "heart in a box," allows doctors to maintain and assess organ function and suitability for transplantation.

Harefield Hospital is the only transplant centre in the UK to use the OCS as standard practice for all heart transplant procedures. The technology means a donor heart can be maintained for up to eight hours outside the body, compared with a maximum of three to four hours when using the traditional method of ice preservation. Therefore, organs can be retrieved from further afield, increasing the chance of recipients receiving a life-saving transplant at Harefield. It also provides extra time for surgeons to carry out more complex operations, for example, removing a patient’s LVAD before preparing the chest cavity to receive the donor heart.