The wait time for an LVAD patient to receive a heart transplant can vary from several months to more than a year or two. During the time you are waiting for a donor heart, you must not travel farther than two hours away from the hospital.
Once a Donor is Located
When a heart becomes available that appears to be a good match, you will receive a phone call to notify you. Since this call could come at any time during the day or night, the transplant team should be able to reach you whether you are at home, at school, at work, or on vacation.
When that phone call comes, everything will seem like a blur. The coordinator will advise you when to be present at the transplant center. You must move quickly, getting to the transplant center without delay. When a heart becomes available, there is a time limit!
You will be admitted to the hospital as soon as you arrive. Once admitted, you will have a thorough physical examination to make sure you are healthy enough for surgery.
Unfortunately, surgery must be postponed if:
You have an infection or have developed any other medical problem that would interfere with surgery or recovery
The donor heart shows signs of deterioration or poor function
If surgery is postponed, the heart transplant team can help you through the disappointment. This is only a temporary setback, and the search for a new heart will go on.
If everything looks good and your doctors determine the surgery can proceed, you will begin taking immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection. You’ll also receive antibiotics and other routine procedures to prepare you for surgery.
It is also important to note that you must maintain strict confidentiality regarding any information you receive about your donor. These protections are part of the HIPPA privacy law.
Heart Transplant 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. The new heart usually begins to beat on its own, and the heart-lung machine can be detached.
After the transplant, you will be transferred to the Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (TICU). You will have a breathing tube for a period of time, in addition to chest tubes, epicardial pacing wires, and a line traditionally placed in the neck which measures pressures inside the heart.
Initial recovery after the transplant surgery takes 6 to 8 weeks.