Czech doctors perform their first combined heart and lung transplant

Lea Mečířová and Jan Pirk, photo: CTK

Doctors at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague have reason to celebrate. In December they performed the first-ever combined heart and lung transplant in the Czech Republic and their patient is now well on the road to recovery.

Lea Mečířová and Jan Pirk,  photo: CTK
The past seven years have not been good for forty-nine-year old Lea Mečírová. In the year 2000 doctors informed her that she had a congenital heart defect that had seriously harmed her lungs. Her only hope of living a normal life was combined heart and lung transplant surgery – an operation that had never been performed in this country. As it turned out she became the first Czech patient to have it done in the Czech Republic. The better part of last year she spent in hospital as her condition deteriorated, waiting for the right donor. When the moment finally arrived – on December 22 - the surgical team, led by the head of the cardio-centre Prof. Jan Pirk started a complicated 8 hour operation to save her life.

“It is a very challenging operation because you have to remove the lungs and heart from both the patient and donor simultaneously and transplant them without any loss of time. But the biggest problem involved is that there are very few donors for an operation of this kind, because we are talking about combined heart and lung donorship - it is not just the biological factors which need to be compatible, but the size of the heart and lungs must fit perfectly into the patient’s chest.”

The team of Czech specialists had previously traveled to Vienna to watch and assist Austrian surgeons during operations on Czech patients. The eight-hour surgery on their first patient was undertaken simultaneously in two operating theatres with half of the team working to extract the organs from the donor and the other half extracting those from the patient’s body and putting the new ones in place.

Photo: CTK
The operation was successful and last week a smiling Lea Mečírová was first allowed to meet with the press. She turned up wearing a T-shirt with a diagram of the heart and lungs – so journalists could see precisely what she had had transplanted. In December she had only a few more months to live. Now she said she was ready to take up her old life once again.

“I am feeling very well indeed. And to give you a better idea I’d say that it is like lugging around a truck-load of sand and then having that weight suddenly taken off you.”

This weekend Lea was finally released from hospital and will only be back for regular check-ups. Her recovery has given fresh hope to others who need similar surgery. According to Prof. Pirk that’s two to three Czechs a year. How soon the next transplant can take place depends on how soon the hospital can find the right donor.