Heart Transplant

Replacement heart

By Brandie Umar, Executive Director of ContentLast modified: October 10, 2011

Heart Transplant

Heart  transplants are necessary for patients who are suffering from final stage heart failure. Heart transplants involve replacing a damaged heart with a healthy donor heart.


Finding a donor heart

Unfortunately, there are not enough donor hearts for the number of patients who require heart transplants. Every year in the US alone, 4000 people are in need of heart transplant surgery and only 2000 donor hearts become available. Patients who need a donor heart are placed on waiting lists and are contacted as soon as there is a donor heart that is a suitable match. Donor hearts are as closely matched to the recipients immune system as possible to prevent the body rejecting the heart and the heart transplant failing. 


Heart transplant surgery

The first stage to heart transplant procedures is to harvest the donor heart and transport the heart to the recipients hospital. To ensure successful transplantation, donor hearts will be transplanted into the recipients body within 6 hours of harvesting. 


Once the donor heart has reached the recipients hospital the second stage of the procedure will start. An incision is made in the recipients chest to allow the cardiac surgeons to perform the open heart surgery. The damaged heart is disconnected from the arteries and removed. The donor heart is inserted into the chest and is attached to the arteries. The attached heart is the filled with the patients blood and defibrillation (electric shock) is used to start the heart beating. To keep the heart beating in a steady rhythm following surgery a temporary pacemaker may be fitted to regulate the heart for a couple of weeks.


Recovery after heart transplant surgery 

After heart transplant surgery, patients are immediately given high doses of immunosuppressant drugs to prevent the body rejecting the donor heart. These drugs are steroid based and suppress the body's immune system to train the body to accept the heart as a natural organ. Post surgery, the patient will be monitored for any signs of cardiac arrest or rejection of the organ. Patients can return home a week after surgery providing there are no complications.


Risks of heart transplant surgery

Because the immune system is weakened, patients are at risk of infection following heart transplant surgery and antibiotics will be prescribed to prevent infection. Once the patient has recovered from the heart transplant surgery, it is important that a patient has regular check-ups with a cardiologist who will monitor for any signs of coronary artery disease which is a common side effect of heart transplant. Patients who develop coronary artery disease often develop angina as a side effect. 




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