5-Second Rule? Medics Drop Heart but Transplant Proceeds

Jan 13, 2012 11:52am

During a moment caught on tape that is sure to make a few cringe, medics in Mexico are seen bumbling, then dropping, a heart on the ground intended for a 20-year-old female heart recipient.

Medics arrived at the Mexico City hospital by helicopter dragging a blue rolling cooler. They are seen running toward a hospital entrance, as reporters stand outside, documenting the transfer. Amid the rush, one medic trips, catching the cooler with his foot. The cooler then flips, spilling its contents, including the organ (wrapped in yellow plastic) onto the ground. The medics hastily put the heart back into the cooler before running inside.

The head of Mexico’s Institute of Social Services said the drop did not affect the organ and the procedure continued on despite the stumble.  Doctors who conducted the transplantation reportedly want to wait 72 hours before confirming that the surgery was a success.

Dr. David Cronin, associate professor of transplant surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said the heart was unlikely affected by the drop due to the multiple layers required when packaging organs.

“For liver, it is usually three sterile bags or two bags in a plastic hard container,” said Cronin. “For kidney, it is a bag in a container inside a bag. Hearts are usually in a bag in a container in a bag. The reason is obvious: the organ needs to be stored in ice (not sterile) for transportation. If the outer container is breached, there is the middle container for protection.”

Dr. Stephen Bartlett, chairman of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, agreed that the drop likely had no significant adverse impact beyond embarrassment.

“They were appropriately hurrying,” said Bartlett. “Bungee cords around the cooler can help keep the cooler closed during times when things are bouncing around in turbulence in the helicopter and when they are running.  No harm done, but this will stay on Youtube for a while.”

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