Overview of Heart Transplantation

A heart transplant replaces a severely diseased or malformed heart with a new heart from a human organ donor. This procedure is considered for late-stage heart failure after other treatment attempts have failed. Transplantation is a treatment, not a cure, for heart failure. When it is successful, it offers an average of 9 to 15 years of additional life. Patients considering transplantation should keep in mind that surgery is only one step in the process. There are several other steps in the process:

Assessment: If your healthcare provider thinks you are a candidate for a heart transplant, a transplant team will assess whether you are a good candidate. This requires a series of medical tests.

Locating a match: You are placed on the waiting list for a donor heart. Waiting times vary from days to months, depending on organ availability and your condition. Patients who become very ill while on the waiting list may require a ventricular assist device as a bridge to transplant.

Lifelong maintenance medication: You must commit to taking daily medication (immunosuppressants) to prevent rejection of the donor heart and other medications to protect from infections and complications.

Heart transplantation is an open heart surgery that lasts 4 to 6 hours. During the surgery, a heart-lung bypass machine takes over the work of the heart and lungs. Once the new heart is positioned in the chest and surgically attached to the major vessels, it usually begins to beat on its own, and the heart-lung machine can be detached. Initial recovery after the transplant surgery takes 6 to 8 weeks.