Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Performs the UAE’s First Full Heart Transplant

Multidisciplinary collaboration supports heart, kidney transplants

Physicians at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala’s network of healthcare providers and the region’s leading heart care center, have successfully completed the United Arab Emirates’ first full heart transplant.

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The pioneering surgery, which took place on the evening of Dec. 5, 2017, and into the early hours of the following morning, was performed by a four-person surgical team that included Rakesh Suri, MD, DPhil, Acting CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi; Johannes Bonatti, MD, Chief of the Heart & Vascular Institute; Stefan Sanger, MD, Clinical Associate; and Jehad Al Ramahi, MBBS, Clinical Associate — all of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The patient, a 38-year-old Emirati man, had been suffering from end-stage heart failure when he was placed on Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s transplant waiting list shortly after the UAE government’s decree earlier in 2017 that allows deceased-donor transplants. The patient is currently recovering from the surgery at the hospital.

On the same night, Bashir Sankari, MD, the Chief of the Surgical Subspecialties Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, performed a kidney transplant from the same donor, providing vital surgery for another patient on the hospital’s transplant list.

“We established Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi to provide the people of the UAE with the highest standards of care; to stimulate medical innovation; and to invest in the development of Emirati healthcare professionals,” says Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Mubadala Deputy Group CEO, and Chief Executive Officer, Alternative Investments & Infrastructure. “This remarkable series of operations delivered on all three objectives, and marked an important medical first for our hospital and our nation.”

A historic medical milestone in the UAE

Dr. Suri adds: “It is a significant achievement for Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and our transplant team, who have accomplished a historic medical milestone in the UAE. This operation underlines the incredible social impact that our transplant services are having — thanks to one donor, we have transformed the lives of multiple patients and their families.”

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“The UAE has taken important strides in introducing new legislation to support transplant operations in 2017, and we are very proud that Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is the first and only multi-organ transplant facility in the country. After two years of sophisticated training and preparation, our team was fully prepared to undertake and excel in performing this innovative series of operations,” Dr. Suri says.

Demonstrating the remarkable benefits that organ donation can offer, teams from another medical facility in the UAE and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were also involved in the transplants. The donor’s second kidney went to a pediatric patient at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, while other organs were collected by the team from the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation (SCOT), to be given to patients on its waiting list.

Multidisciplinary excellence at every level

“This was a demonstration of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s multidisciplinary excellence at every level,” says Dr. Bonatti. “The surgery went well with no significant complications and the heart patient was taken to the intensive care unit after six hours in the operating room.”

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has worked closely with Cleveland Clinic and Mubadala in establishing its organ transplant program. Cleveland Clinic Transplant Center is a world leader in organ transplantation, and the team in Abu Dhabi has benefitted significantly from sharing best practice and new innovations with their colleagues in the United States.

Feras Bader, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Heart Failure and Transplant Program, says: “I was called about the donor 48 hours before the transplant surgery. It was the same day that the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant in 1967, and also the day the UAE was celebrating its 46th National Day. It’s a remarkable coincidence and one that shows the incredible progress this nation has made.”

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Dr. Bader says the 24-member multidisciplinary Heart Failure and Transplant team had been preparing for its first heart transplant for the past two years, including attending extensive education sessions and simulating the transplant process and surgery on multiple occasions.

A career-defining experience

For Dr. Al Ramahi, an Emirati national, the opportunity to be part of the first UAE heart transplant team was a career-defining experience. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is committed to supporting the growth and development of UAE national physicians, as part of its efforts to help build a sustainable healthcare sector.

Dr. Suri concludes: “This operation represents a major milestone as far as the services we can provide at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and it offers new hope for patients with heart failure in the UAE. It also demonstrates the incredible international and regional cooperation that is enabling the delivery of world-class transplant services for our community, with the support of Cleveland Clinic’s Transplant Center in the US and the collaboration with hospitals in the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia maximizing the impact of these operations.”