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Times of India
03 Nov 2012

When 35–year–old Monika Rastogi went on a trip with her family to Mussourie, little did the mother of two know that her joy ride would dissipate into numerous nights of wheezing and endless visits to hospitals. It took two tubes, a pump and a heart to finally help her breathe easy.

"I feel like I’ve got a second life now. I can breathe without any restriction, relieve myself with ease and move my hands," said Monika. The homemaker, who was airlifted from her hometown Delhi to Fortis Malar Hospital in Chennai after suffering from a severe heart failure, successfully underwent a heart transplant with an artificial pump or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) serving as a bridge while waiting for a donor.

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"Monika suffered from a genetic disorder that resulted in a defective heart, and urgently required a donor. When she was brought to the hospital, her heart was pumping only 25%. During the waiting period, her condition deteriorated, nearly reaching a terminal stage of multiple organ failure with a severe fall in blood pressure, lack of urine output, severe breathlessness and jaundice," said Dr K R Balakrishnan, director of cardiac sciences at the hospital.

Doctors decided to provide her mechanically assisted heart beats. Monika responded positively to the treatment with her blood pressure settling at normal and her heart and lungs improving. "Two days later we received news that relatives of a brain–dead patient at a government hospital had decided to donate his organs. The harvesting and transplant went off well. She is doing fine," said Dr Suresh Rao who was part of surgical team.

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According to doctors, a majority of patients die while waiting for a heart. In such cases, mechanically assisted heart beats come in handy. "In Monika’s case, she was lucky as a donor heart was available within two days. The case is not the same for many other patients," said Rao.

A previous attempt by doctors of the hospital to resuscitate a patient through mechanically assisted heart beats failed due to unavailability of a donor heart. "He had suffered a severe heart failure and needed a donor immediately. We used the technique as a bridge for close to six weeks, but we couldn’t save him," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"However, the rate at which artificial heart techonology is rapidly advancing, I wouldn’t be surprised if we develop a new machine that can replace heart without a time limit. Monika’s surgery was a small but significant step towards that end," he said. Chennai has conducted the largest number of heart transplants in the country.

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