CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Charlotte doctors have new technology that allows a heart to be outside the body, meaning more patients can get transplants.

Atrium Health said its hospital is one of the first in the country to use the devices commercially.

“The heart muscle’s happy. It’s recovering. You’re assessing how it’s doing,” said Dr. Eric Skipper, a cardiothoracic heart transplant surgeon at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute at Atrium Health.

The devices allow doctors to save more hearts and lives.

“This device pumps blood to the heart, retrieves blood from the heart, retrieves blood that is exiting the heart,” Skipper said.

This way of saving the heart is very different from what transplant teams have used in the past when they had to put a heart on ice in cold storage.

The machine takes care of the heart after someone is taken off life support. Previously, a heart could get damaged, making it unusable for a transplant.

“Now, those donors, after withdrawal of life support, their hearts can be retrieved and placed on this device and then utilized, so that expands what we call the donor pool,” said Dr. Joseph Mishkin, an advanced heart failure transplant cardiologist at the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.

The device gives transplant teams more time between retrieving the heart and transplanting the organ, doubling the distance they can travel to get a heart.

Without without the devices, Atrium officials said there is typically a four-hour window between when blood flow stops to the donor’s heart and when blood flow is restored to the recipient’s heart.

Now, transplant teams can extend that time to up to 10 hours by using the devices. That means they can also go twice the distance to harvest a heart, from 500 miles to 1,000 miles.

“It has the potential to probably double our transplant volume,” Mishkin said.

That means surgeons can give hearts to more people who desperately need them.

“Often times, [patients waiting for transplants] are having trouble just doing their basic daily activities,” Skipper said. “You see them six to eight years later, and they’re talking about seeing their kids graduate high school, graduate college. They’re talking about their grandkids that they probably would have never seen otherwise.”

Atrium Health started using the devices about a month ago, and so far, four transplants have been done using the new technology.

The hospital has also used the same type of devices to transplant other organs, such as lungs and livers.