OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Looking at him, you might not know Tim Hagen is one in 7.9 billion.
"When they found the cancer, the surgery was July 3rd, 2014, and they cut out 18 inches of my colon," he shared.
The stage IV cancer required surgery and aggressive chemotherapy which weakened Hagen's heart. Doctors at Nebraska Medicine told the 65-year-old from Glenwood, Iowa that he would need a new heart.
They approached him with an idea: Would he consider an NPR-DCD heart using SherpaPak technology?
"I said 'yes' to everything," he told KMTV with a smile.
Hagen would become the first patient in the world where this life-saving approach was used.
His new heart had previously stopped beating, then was resuscitated, making it viable for transplant.
SherpaPak, developed for organ transport, was developed by Massachusetts-based Paragonix, and cleared for use by the FDA in 2018 as a tech-infused alternative to crushed ice and coolers.
"The problem with this method was that organs get too cold, and you also run the risk of temperature deviation during transport and of course you really have no way of monitoring or recording the environmental conditions for the organ during transport," said Paragonix co-founder Doctor Lisa Anderson about the old method.
SherpaPak was designed to address those issues. It also allows organs to come from farther away.
Hagen's surgeon, Doctor Marian Urban, explained why time was of the essence.
"Every single day exposes them to the risk of infection and adverse outcome," he said.
Doctor Urban says it's difficult to make predictions about what pairing NPR-DCD hearts with SherpaPak could ultimately mean. However, he is optimistic that 10 to 20 percent of people on heart transplant waiting lists could be affected.
Hagen praises the medical professionals who fought to save his life.
"They all care. They take it to heart, you know? They just, they don't want to lose either. There's a lot of fight in them, too," Hagen said.
While Tim was the first patient, he is not the last.
Doctor Urban and his Nebraska Medicine colleagues have already successfully performed two additional transplant surgeries similar to Hagen's. After two more, they'll publish the results of their clinical trial.