Heart Transplantation,

in Heart Institute

Heart transplantation,
its history and development in Ukraine

Трансплантація серця інститут серця

Heart transplantation is one of the most complex operations in medicine, during which a hopelessly diseased heart is replaced with a healthy donor heart.

Heart transplantation is usually prescribed for patients whose condition can no longer be improved with medication or cardiothoracic surgery.

The Heart Institute is a leader in the number of heart transplant operations in Ukraine. Thanks to the many years of experience of our doctors and state-of-the-art equipment in their skilled hands, patients have a great chance of recovery.

What unites them is the belief that everything will be fine, and that each of them will receive a chance for a long and full life with the new organ.

The first successful heart transplant in Ukraine took place on March 2, 2001, at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery of the National Institute of Surgery and Transplantology named after A.A. Shalimov of the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine.

It was performed by Boris Mikhailovich Todurov, now a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and transplantologist. His account of how it all happened is deeply moving.

Трансплантація серця інститут серця

Let’s go back to 2001:

“It was March 2, 2001. Wet snow was falling, and in the evening, a frost hit, and the roads were covered with an icy crust. I received a call saying that the first official donor was at the Institute of Neurosurgery. It was not difficult to obtain the relatives’ consent — their family had previously faced a donation issue (they were looking for a kidney), so they understood how difficult all this is. We also had a patient who needed a heart — a 35-year-old man.

Closer to one o’clock in the morning, we were able to take the heart from the donor. When I left the institute, I already had a container with 4 kg of ice and the cargo itself. I exited through the back door, behind me, they slammed the iron bolt shut, and I was left alone in the dark courtyard. The frost was about 10 degrees, and there I was, in surgical attire, slippers, and hoping that an ambulance I had arranged for in advance was waiting for me on the street. But it wasn’t there. In the end, I had to walk up the slippery street at night to catch a ride. By the time I got there, I had fallen several times, bruised my knees, trying my best not to damage the precious box. A few minutes later, a white ‘Zhiguli’ appeared. I stop it, jump into the front seat and say: ‘Let’s go quickly to the Shalimov Institute, I need to transplant a heart!’. He looked at me for a long time and said: ‘Get out’. I was nervous: ‘Hurry, there’s no time, I need to sew in the heart!’. He pulls out an iron rod: ‘Get out, or I’ll hit you on the head! I don’t drive schizophrenics at night!’.

I had to get out. I stood for another 10 minutes – I was completely frozen, turned all blue. At some point, I just cried like a child – from insult, from the cold, from the horror of the whole situation.

Finally, another car appeared. I jumped into the middle of the road, the car tried to stop, and it skidded. The driver, cursing and with a heavy object in his hands, got out and headed towards me. When he approached, I recognized him — he was my classmate. I barely persuaded him to give me a lift — he was in a hurry to get to the station. On the way, he asked, “Why do you have a box?” – “I’m transporting a heart” – “Oh, come on!”. I opened the box, took out the bag with the heart floating in it, and showed him. He said nothing — just stepped on the gas.

The doors to the operating room were closed — the head of the department, knowing full well that we were coming, had let the anesthesiologist go, locked the operating room, and went home early. We had to break down the doors, bring in the patient, quickly connect the artificial circulation device, and sew in the heart. It took a long time to start — a whole 40 minutes. During that time, there was nothing we could do — we just stood and prayed. And only when it finally started beating, I was able to exhale and tell myself, “Now everything is fine.”

Things were fine for a few more days. The patient felt normal, but on the third day, someone injected him with a huge dose of immunosuppressants — five vials (!) instead of one as per the norm. Because of this, the patient developed renal failure, and on the eleventh day, he died. I never found out who made that injection, whether it was done on purpose or not. But that question still haunts me to this day…

Although it all ended so tragically, we were glad for the first heart transplant in Ukraine. The fact that a foreign heart started beating and the patient woke up means that technically everything was done perfectly. Moreover, the operation took place not thanks to, but despite all circumstances. I had to deal with a lot of professional jealousy at the time — not everyone could calmly accept that they were not the ones performing the operation. The next day after the transplant, instead of congratulations, I received reprimands from the management (“Why are you doing transplants here without my permission?! That’s not how we do things here!”).” 

(excerpt from an interview with B. Todurov).

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Boris Todurov performed the second heart transplant operation two years later. Eduard Sokolov from Kharkiv lived with a donor heart for 18 years.

Another significant achievement in Ukrainian transplantology has been the ability to transplant children’s hearts. After all, an adult donor’s heart is not suitable for a small child.

In July 2023, 6-year-old Solomiya became the first child in Ukraine to receive a new heart. The operation was performed by Boris Todurov along with the team of the Heart Institute.

Currently, at the Heart Institute of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, over 20 children are waiting for a new organ. 

Трансплантація серця інститут серця

A significant progress in Ukrainian transplantology was the transplantation of a heart-lung complex in October 2023. This unique operation, considered extremely complex, is performed only 20–25 times a year worldwide.

The organ transplant was performed in Lviv for 38-year-old Nina from the Kyiv region by Boris Todurov along with the team of the Heart Institute and the First Medical Association of Lviv.

Трансплантація серця інститут серця
Трансплантація серця інститут серця
Трансплантація серця інститут серця

Each time a new heart starts, it is a moment of extraordinary medical wonder made possible by the great skill of doctors. 

Life ends — life continues.

Indications for surgery

The primary indication for heart transplantation surgery is heart failure.

The heart cannot function properly, and a countdown begins. How long a diseased heart will last without transplantation depends on the individual characteristics of each patient’s body. It could be several years, months, or even days.

Causes of heart failure may include:

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