Health & Wellness

New ‘Heart in a Box' Transplant Technology Saves Prospect Heights Man's Life

The donor heart was procured for John Baggio, who first learned of the "Heart in a Box" transplant process through an NBC Chicago story last year.

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New technology is allowing the transplant team at Northwestern Medicine to travel further to procure donor hearts for surgery.

NBC Chicago was granted access by Northwestern Medicine to videos taken during a recent procurement in January.

The video shows Dr. Benjamin Bryner, a transplant surgeon, and other members of the NM team loading a TransMedics “Organ Care System Heart” machine onto an SUV that was then given a police escort to Midway Airport, where the team and the machine boarded a plane to go pick up the donor heart from an undisclosed location.

“It was multiple hours away, much longer than we able we would be able to fly and take back on cold storage, on ice,” Bryner said.

The donor heart was procured for John Baggio, 69, an artist from Prospect Heights. A genetic condition had weakened his heart considerably over the years, leaving it unable to pump blood effectively.

A heart pump was installed to keep him alive and in the hospital at Northwestern Medicine while he waited for a donor heart.

Online research about the transplant process led him to a previous NBC Chicago story from November about technology that Northwestern was using, allowing a heart that was donated after circulatory death to remain viable for surgery through the use of new technology nicknamed a "Heart in a Box."

“I watched it online and I saw your piece on NBC with the first candidate. And that's just amazing," Baggio told NBC 5. "I mean, you've got this glass box and a heart's beating inside, and they can transport it from 12 to 24 hours."

When he saw the story, Baggio had no idea that same technology would make his transplant possible weeks later.

After procuring the donor heart at another hospital, it was hooked up to the “heart in a box” machine and transported back to Chicago for Baggio’s successful transplant surgery on Jan. 24, 2023.

“This machine helped us get a heart for him in short order in a way that we wouldn't have been able to without it,” Bryner said.

Baggio said he’s grateful to the donor family, the entire team at Northwestern Medicine and for this new technology that made his transplant possible.

“This opens up the whole country. This is amazing. This is unbelievable,” Baggio said.

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