Munson Health
Heart Transplant

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by Chwistek M

Reasons for Procedure

A heart transplant is done if you have:

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have a heart transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
More than 80% of heart transplant patients live for at least one year after surgery. Most return to normal activities, including work and exercise.
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

What to Expect


General anesthesia will be used. It will block pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV.

Description of the Procedure

After you are asleep, the doctor will cut through the skin and breastbone. The chest will be opened and you will be connected to a heart-lung machine. This machine takes over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. Your heart will be removed. The donor heart will be prepared and sewn into place in your chest. Next, the blood vessels will be connected. After this, the blood will start to flow and warm the heart.
The new heart may begin beating on its own, or you may be given an electrical shock to get your heart started. For safety, you will also have a temporary pacemaker attached to the heart to help the heart beat stay regular. After the doctor is sure that the heart is beating fine, the blood will be rewarmed. The heart-lung machine will be disconnected. Next, temporary tubes may be placed in the chest cavity to drain any blood that has collected. The chest will be closed with stainless steel wires. Lastly, the skin will be closed with absorbable sutures.

Immediately After Procedure

You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) with the help of some/all of the following:
  • Heart monitor
  • Pacing wires used to help the heart beat normally
  • Tubes connected to a machine that helps drain excess blood and air
  • Breathing tube, until you can breathe on your own
  • Medications to support heart function
  • An IV
You will also have your vital signs monitored.

How Long Will It Take?

8 hours

Will It Hurt?

You will have pain during the recovery process. Your doctor will give you pain medication.

Average Hospital Stay

This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is at least two weeks. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you shows signs of rejecting the new heart or have other problems.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you will need to:
  • Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour.
  • Take immunosuppressive drugs—You will likely need to take these for the rest of your life. These drugs reduce the chance that your body will reject the new heart.
  • Take measures to prevent blood clots, such as wearing compression stockings
  • Have blood tests
Your doctor may need to take a biopsy of your heart routinely and additionally as needed if you:
  • Have persistent fever
  • Have poor heart function
  • Do not feel well
At Home
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
  • Take medications as directed.
  • Return as prescribed by your transplant cardiologist for follow up biopsies.
  • Work with a physical therapist. Keep in mind that your new heart will respond slowly to increases in physical activity.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • Ask for help at home. Your doctor may refer a visiting nurse to assist you at home in the early stages of recovery.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .
The surgical site in your breastbone will heal in 4-6 weeks.


Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients

Transplant Living



Health Canada

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada



Heart transplant. American Heart Association website. Available at: . Updated June 25, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2013.

What is a heart transplant? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Updated January 3, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2013.


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