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Mass General Surgeons Pioneer Transplant Surgery with DCD Donor Hearts

In This Article

  • Surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital are among the first in the United States to perform donation after circulatory death (DCD) donor heart transplants
  • David D'Alessandro, MD, surgical director for Heart Transplantation, said that this surgery can ameliorate the urgent need for suitable transplant organs
  • DCD heart transplants use organs that have been removed after declaration of death, but prior to brain death or irreversible loss of brain function
  • Patients who have undergone the operation have shown favorable outcomes overseas

Surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital performed the first adult heart transplant using donation after circulatory death (DCD) donor hearts in the New England region and five DCD heart transplants to date—the largest number in the country.

Donor hearts have historically been removed after brain death or irreversible loss of brain function. In DCD donors, however, the organ is removed when a donor has brain function incompatible with life, but does not meet all criteria for brain death. Life support is removed, and if the donor's heart stops beating within a certain period of time, then death is declared and the organ is removed.

After removal, DCD donor hearts receive warm, oxygenated blood using a device called an Organ Care System (OCS). The OCS, which was also used during the world's first DCD heart transplant in 2014, reanimates the organ until it can be safely transplanted.

David D'Alessandro, MD, surgical director for Heart Transplantation at Massachusetts General Hospital, noted that patients die each day waiting for transplants, and DCD heart transplants are one way to begin to address the shortage of suitable organs.

Heart transplant patients overseas have already shown favorable outcomes following DCD heart transplant, according to recent studies. As the approach continues to show promise, James Markmann, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, said he is confident that the DCD heart transplant program will continue to grow at Mass General.

Mass General is one of five transplant centers taking part in a clinical trial for DCD heart transplants that will run through August 2021.

Learn more about the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program

Refer a patient to the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center


Warm perfusion and careful selection of marginal organs allow Mass General transplant teams to save more lives.


In this video, Nasrien Ibrahim, MD, discusses her work in identifying patients who are at risk for developing heart failure. She and her research team are using the CASABLANCA database to find biomarkers that could predict a patient's risk for heart failure.