A heart transplant is open heart surgery to replace a diseased or damaged heart with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. Heart transplants are performed when all other reasonable options for your heart are exhausted.
Who is Eligible for a Heart Transplant?
Heart transplant eligibility is determined by a team of specialists. The team may include cardiologists, heart surgeons, transplant coordinators, social workers, dietitians and psychiatrists.
Who is Not Eligible for a Heart Transplant?
Criteria that may make someone ineligible for a heart transplant include:
- Advanced age
- Poor blood circulation to the legs and/or brain
- Advanced kidney, lung or liver disease
- Active infection
- Severe stroke or dementia
- HIV or active hepatitis
- Advanced diabetes with major damage to other organs
- Irreversible pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
- Smoking or alcohol abuse
- Unwillingness to follow treatment plans
The Heart Transplant Procedure
Heart transplant surgery is performed with general anesthesia, which means you'll be asleep during the procedure. You'll be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which will take over the function of your heart and lungs, and pump your blood for you while the surgeon is working on your heart.
During your surgery, the surgeon will make an incision in your chest. Your breastbone will need to be separated so the surgeon can remove the diseased heart and replace it with the donor heart.
After Heart Transplant Surgery
You'll spend several days in the hospital after heart transplant surgery, including a short stay in the ICU. You might have tubes in your chest to drain fluid from your heart, and in your bladder to drain urine. The tubes will be removed 1-3 days after your surgery.
After your heart transplant procedure, you'll also have an IV line for fluids and pain medication. Make sure you tell your nurse if you're experiencing pain.
Your body will see your new heart as a foreign object, and may try to reject it. Following heart transplant surgery, you'll need to take immunosuppression medications to prevent rejection of your new heart.
At Wake Forest Baptist Health, your heart transplant care will be managed by a specialized team of physicians, surgeons, pharmacists and nurses who will assist you with your heart transplant surgery recovery.
Heart Transplant Surgery Risks
As with any type of surgery, heart transplant surgery does have some risks, so it's important to know the facts before heart transplant surgery. Some of the risks are associated with anesthesia; others are related to the procedure. Risks associated with heart transplant surgery may include:
- Blood clots
- Breathing problems
- Kidney failure
- Poor wound healing
- Rejection of the heart
Signs of Heart Transplant Rejection
Tell your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms after your heart transplant surgery:
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
- Decreased urine output
You may request an appointment with a Heart Center doctor by filling out our online form.