As a surgeon, Dr. Anson Cheung is used to putting in long hours in the operating room at St. Paul’s Hospital, performing life-saving surgery on critically-ill patients.
But this week the head of cardiac surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital was pushed to his limits: three heart transplants scheduled within hours of each other.
“We normally do 17 or 18 transplants in one year, so to do three in 24 hours is remarkable,” he said.
“Giving the gift of life to patients is our job, and it’s amazing.”
Due to patient confidentiality, the hospital can’t disclose exactly when the transplants occurred, but they did all happen this week.
The first one was scheduled at 6 p.m., with the procedure taking approximately three hours to complete. The second surgery began just an hour after that, and took the better part of the night, finishing at 5 a.m.
By noon, the team was back in the operating room with another patient who desperately needed a new heart.
By the time it was all over, Cheung spent more than 15 hours on his feet, but he says the credit has to go to the entire team.
“Three in a row is extremely difficult…we need coordination between BC Transplant and the donor’s family. We need to send doctors and nurses to procure the organ, and then here at St. Paul’s we need to staff the operating room and the ICU while we juggle [these surgeries].”
This is the first time in B.C. history that three heart transplants were done in less than 24 hours. At one point, the staff at St. Paul’s weren’t sure if they could pull it off.
“There was a moment while I was coordinating, and I realized we had three good hearts, and I wondered whether it was feasible to do them all,” said Dr. Margot Davis, who says when the third heart became available, they almost had to turn it down.
“It would have been a terrible loss if we couldn’t give a viable organ to someone who needed it.”
2015 was a record for organ transplants in B.C., with 422 people given the gift of life. According to Cheung, 2016 is shaping up to beat that number.
“We’ve already done 14 heart transplants this year, and we expect to beat our own record of 23 in one year,” he said.
All three patients are said to be doing well. One family who can’t be identified reached out to Global News via email. The letter says they are eternally grateful for the gift of life that they have received, and they will think of the donor and their family always.