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'Heart In A Box' Organ Preservation Helps Save Portsmouth Mom Of Two

First Posted: 01/04/12 02:25 PM ET   Updated: 01/04/12 04:06 PM ET

Amy DeStefano started off the new year with a new lease on life when she got the heart for which she had waited three years.

After a virus damaged her heart in 2009, the 40-year-old mom of two anxiously waited for her name to climb to the top of the donor list, Seacoastonline.com reports. When DeStefano finally got her match on Dec. 30, she was the first person in New England to get a transplant in such unconventional packaging.

The organ was preserved with the relatively new "heart in a box" technology, which relies on a machine to keep the heart beating long after a standard cooler can.

"Amy is a pioneer," DeStefano's sister, Lisa, told Seacoastonline.com.

Such pioneering may give way to saving many more lives.

Because the standard cooling method only preserves a heart for about six hours, viable organs are often damaged, or can't make their way in time to the recipients in need, according to UCLA Health.

"If we're able to safely transport donor hearts across longer distances, from the East Coast to West Coast for example, we may be able to increase the pool of donor hearts available to patients," Abbas Ardehali, M.D., surgical director of the UCLA Heart and Lung Transplant Program, told the news outlet.

Donate Life America, a nonprofit that facilitates donor registries and promotes donor education programs, currently has 112,178 people waiting for transplants. The organization helped foster 28,665 organ transplants in 2010, a statistic that could very well increase with the help of this groundbreaking preserving technology.

Though the idea of a preserved beating heart may cause some to shudder, families waiting for a transplant interpret the procedure in a different way, writes Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, in an MSNBC editorial.

"There is no denying that, as Poe understood, the image of the beating heart outside the body is macabre," Caplan writes. "That is until you imagine a family grieving over the loss of a loved one because there was no heart to transplant. That truly nightmarish image is the one this new machine may help prevent."

Learn more about Donate Life America here.

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Jeffrey Saurman, Amy's supportive and loyal boyfriend, and Amy DeStefano at Boston Museum of Science, Feb. 2010
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Filed by Eleanor Goldberg  |