Heart surgeons at Washington Hospital Center proved during the weekend that timing is everything. In less than 10 hours, a heart transplant team flew to Boulder, Colo., removed a donor heart and returned to Washington, where the organ was sewn into the chest of a dying man.

The precision drill, unusual for its speed and the distance involved, was performed for Yves Noblet, 52, a District cabdriver with severe heart disease. Noblet, who lives in Temple Hills, was admitted to Washington Adventist Hospital Aug. 20 and was immediately hooked to machines to assist his sluggish and erratic heartbeat.

A few days later, his cardiologist, Dr. Anantha Rao, called Dr. John A. Macoviak, head of heart transplantation at Washington Hospital Center, to determine whether Noblet would be a good transplant candidate.

After Noblet's heart stopped Thursday, he was revived immediately and was taken by helicopter to Washington Hospital Center on Friday to wait for a donor organ. Time was short, but the patient's size -- about 220 pounds -- made the search for a suitable heart difficult.

"He'd already died once," Macoviak said, referring to the brief heart stoppage. "We couldn't wait."

At 5 p.m. Saturday, the hospital center got a call from Boulder Community Hospital, where a 21-year-old victim of a motorcycle accident was declared brain-dead. A respirator was maintaining the patient's breathing, enabling blood to continue circulating.

That call catapulted the transplant coordinators into action, carefully mapping out transportation and operation schedules in two localities more than 1,500 miles apart. By 8:15 p.m., Macoviak, Dr. Paul Corso and four assistants were in an ambulance headed for a rented Learjet awaiting them at National Airport. The plane landed at Jefferson County Airport near Boulder at midnight.

Two hours later, the surgeons had removed the heart from the donor, put it in an icy saline solution and packed it in a red and white Playmate cooler and were airborne again.

The return trip was crucial, Macoviak said, explaining that the less time the heart was without a blood supply, the better. Every advantage was welcomed. "Flying from west to east, we knew we'd have a little tail wind," Macoviak said.

About the time the jet passed over Chicago, Noblet was anesthetized in Washington and technicians began giving him drugs to suppress his immune system so his body would not fight off the new heart.

"When we landed at National, we radioed ahead {to Dr. Jorge Garcia, chief of cardiac surgery at Washington Hospital Center} and told him to cut the old heart out," Macoviak said.

A helicopter dropped the team off at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, and 30 minutes later, Noblet's new heart was sewn in place. The new heart, which had been on ice 4 1/2 hours, worked fine.

"Personally, I have never gone this far for a heart," said Macoviak, who performed about 30 such operations at Stanford University before moving to Washington last year.

This was the sixth heart transplant performed at the hospital center since a consortium of area hospitals won permission from the District in April to do the procedure. In the area, only Fairfax Hospital and the hospital center have transplanted hearts.

Last evening, Noblet was awake and communicating. "He looks fine," Macoviak said, adding that the patient should soon be breathing without the assistance of machinery.