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Reasons to Love Toronto Now

Because life-saving organs now arrive by air

This drone delivered a set of lungs in six minutes

By Kelsey Rolfe| Photography by Jason Vanbruggen
Because life-saving organs now arrive by air
Because life-saving organs now arrive by air

In 1986, Shaf Keshavjee was part of the surgical team at Toronto General Hospital that pulled off the world’s first successful double lung transplant. Now, he’s back with another life-saving innovation: delivering lungs by drone.

Typically, when a pair of lungs becomes available, a hospital team hops in a car or on a jet to retrieve the organs. Keshavjee, the director of UHN’s Toronto lung transplant program, realized that drones could shave hours off the process by dodging traffic or time-consuming flight logistics. He partnered with the bioelectronics company Unither to build a drone with an organ chamber, capable of safely transporting lungs up to 30 kilometres, complete with temperature and vibration controls, its own GPS system and a ballistic parachute.

Because life-saving organs now arrive by air
Dr. Shaf Keshavjee (in white) with, from left, Martine Rothblatt and Mikael Cardinal from United Therapeutics and Andrew Sage and Kevin Smith from UHN.

This past September, Keshavjee used his invention to send a real set of lungs from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General for the first time. Once the organs completed their six-minute flight from helipad to helipad, Keshavjee rushed them downstairs and used them to save a man’s life. The pilot project was just the first step in a major advancement for lung transplantation. Next on Keshavjee’s list? Extending the drone’s maximum distance to one day forgo jet transports entirely.

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