Heart Transplant

What to Expect: Before a Heart Transplant

Every patient’s transplant journey will be different, depending on many factors such as their individual health and requirements. In general, ahead of heart transplant surgery patients can expect:

Referral: You will be referred to a specialist heart transplant program such as the Heart Failure & Transplant Program.

Transplant Evaluation: A thorough evaluation ensures you will benefit long-term from a heart transplant. Evaluation includes several steps:

  • Medical evaluation: Your doctor will perform many tests, to review things like your blood composition (to help identify any other conditions which may affect your ability to receive a donor heart) and your immune system (to try to predict how well it will tolerate a donor organ) and kidney function. Imaging tests may also be performed, as well as diagnostic tests to check the function of your heart, respiratory and circulatory systems.
  • Psychological evaluation: Maintaining a healthy heart after transplantation can be challenging and carries an increased risk of depression. Psychological and neurological tests are performed to check for any potential issues that may cause you problems.
  • Dental evaluation: Oral infections can spread to the heart so oral health is very important.
  • Social evaluation: A good support network of family and friends is an important factor in transplant success.

Waiting list: If you are considered a candidate for a transplant, you will be added to a waiting list by transplant coordinators. The more urgent the case, the higher on the waiting list you will be placed.

Treatment: While you wait for a transplant, ‘bridge’ treatments are given, which include therapies, medications or other types of care which can help you have fewer/milder symptoms.

What to Expect: During a Heart Transplant

A heart transplant is a very complex procedure, usually consisting of the following steps:

General anesthesia: To put you to sleep.

Connection to a ventilator: A tube is inserted down the throat and attached to a ventilator to keep you beathing.

Given blood thinners: To reduce the risk of blood clots as the blood flows through a heart-lung bypass machine.

Connection to a heart-lung bypass machine: Also called a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, the device does the job of your heart and lungs during surgery, by circulating the blood to the body and adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.

Removal of the diseased heart: Surgeons will disconnect the blood vessels to the heart and then remove it.

Implant the donor heart: Your major blood vessels are attached to the donor heart, and it will be restarted. An electrical pacing device may be needed to help the new heart to start beating again.

What to Expect: After a Heart Transplant

Recovery: You will be placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) initially, so your medical team can monitor your vital signs closely and check for any signs of rejection. Your stay in hospital will depend on your overall recovery but is usually between 1 and 3 weeks.

Home care plan: Your transplant team will work with you to create a plan of care that you must follow closely while recovering at home. This includes taking your medication correctly, following a certain diet and knowing how to exercise safely. They will also educate you on how to recognize the signs of infection or organ rejection, and what you should do if this happens.

Cardiac rehabilitation: Your team will place you on a cardiac rehabilitation program to help improve your heart strength and function.

Immune system suppression: You will be given medication to suppress your immune system which you will need to take for the rest of your life. Immunosuppressants are very important and will protect your new heart from being attacked by your own immune system.

Life After a Heart Transplant

Returning to a normal life after a heart transplant will be different for every patient and will depend on how well your recovery is going and your overall health.

Heart transplants can be lifesaving and thanks to advances in medicine and surgical expertise, most people enjoy a better quality of life afterwards. With the right long-term care and support, it is possible to live many years or decades after a heart transplant.

A Second Chance at Life. Multidisciplinary transplant experts from our Transplant Center provide complex and compassionate care. Learn more about the life-changing surgeries performed at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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