Heart transplant surgery, also called cardiac transplantation, replaces a severely diseased or malformed heart with a new heart from a human organ donor. Heart transplant is considered for patients with advanced heart failure after other treatments are no longer helpful. Heart transplantation is a successful treatment for advanced heart failure that offers an average of 9 to 15 years of additional, high-quality life.
Many important steps happen before heart transplant surgery to set up a successful outcome. Patients undergo thorough testing and counseling to make sure they are a good fit for both the surgery and the follow-up care. A financial coordinator works with each patient's insurance plan and other resources to finance the cost of the surgery and additional treatments.
Patients who live more than two hours away must relocate to Salt Lake City for eight or more months, so that they are close to our hospital. Patients are listed on a national waiting list maintained by the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).
When a donor is located, our heart transplant team calls the patient to the hospital for surgery. Heart transplantation is an open-heart surgery that lasts four to six hours. During the surgery, a heart-lung bypass machine takes over the work of the heart and lungs.
The new heart is positioned in the chest and surgically attached to the major vessels, as shown in the image below. The new heart usually begins to beat on its own, and the surgical team detaches the heart-lung machine. Initial recovery after the transplant surgery takes six to eight weeks.
After surgery and recovery, patients begin life with their new heart and medications. Patients must commit to taking daily medications called immunosuppressants to prevent rejection of the donor heart. They also take other medications to protect from infections and complications.
Heart transplant patients and their families form close relationships with the caregivers on our heart transplant team. They also meet and form friendships with other heart transplant patients and their families. These two groups often become the most important sources of information, comfort and support through this process.
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