In our region the average wait time for a heart on the national waiting list is 7 months. We will continue to manage your condition until then. Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Insurance, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid, will pay for your evaluation and surgery. Please contact your insurance for specific levels of coverage. Read more in our Frequently Asked Questions.
Talk to your cardiologist to see if a heart transplant is right for you. You can also call our office at (708) 327-2738 and a transplant nurse will answer your questions.
Although you may have been told you need a transplant, several tests must be done to evaluate your overall health, including how your heart, lungs and kidneys are functioning. After your tests are completed, the doctors will review your results and propose the best treatment for you.
Once patients are identified as potential heart transplant candidates, they undergo several days of tests and consults. The heart transplant team will then review and discuss the results to determine if the patient should be listed for transplant surgery. The testing includes, but is not limited to:
- Blood tests: To give us information about your blood sugar and cholesterol levels as well as your kidney and liver function. Other tests will tell us if you have been exposed to certain viruses, such as cytomegalovirus, or CMV, and Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV. Blood work also will be done to determine your blood type and the percentage of antibodies in your blood.
- A chest X-ray: To evaluate the size of your heart and potential problems with your lungs.
- A urine test: To evaluate kidney function and to determine if alcohol and drugs are in your system.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG): To evaluate your heart rate and rhythm.
- An echocardiogram: To evaluate your heart size, shape, thickness and motion. It also tells us how well your heart valves function.
- A cardiopulmonary stress test (CPX): To evaluate how your heart, lungs and large muscles of your arms and legs respond to exercise. This test tells us how heart failure has affected your ability to exercise.
- A right-heart catheterization: To record the blood pressures in your heart and lungs.
- A left-heart catheterization or coronary angiogram: To evaluate the blood vessels in your heart.
- A CT scan of your chest, abdomen and pelvis: To determine if there is disease in your lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, bowel or reproductive organs.
- A pulmonary function test: If you have a history of smoking, asthma or lung disease, or if you are older than 50, this test will evaluate the function of your lungs by measuring how much air you can breathe in and out.
- A carotid Doppler study: To measure blood flow in the large arteries in the neck leading to the brain. Poor blood flow in the carotid artery increases the risk of stroke.
- An ankle-brachial index (ABI) test: If you have a history of poor circulation in your legs, diabetes or coronary artery disease, or if you are older than 50.
- A bone density test (DEXA): To evaluate whether you have osteoporosis (bone mass loss).
- A colonoscopy: If you are 50 years old or older and have not had a recent colonoscopy to screen for malignancy.
- A mammogram: For all women 40 years old or older if not done in the last year to screen for malignancy.
- A Pap smear: For all women if not done in the last year to screen for malignancy.
- An eye exam: If you have diabetes or are older than 50.
- A dental exam is needed for all patients to rule out infection.
A person will not be denied for transplant based on age alone.
Once you are deemed a suitable transplant candidate, your name will be placed on the national matching list called UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing). You can visit their Web site for research and educational articles on transplantation.
Waiting for a donor organ can be a stressful experience, especially because the amount of time you'll have to wait is unknown. Regardless, there are important steps transplant candidates can take to ensure they are ready for surgery when the important call comes. Sometimes it is necessary to help the heart while waiting for an organ transplant. In those cases, a patient may need to undergo a heart-pump surgery, also known as a Left-Ventricular Assist Device implantation.
- Take care of your health. Try to stay as healthy as possible and take your medicines as they are prescribed. Notify your transplant coordinator if any additional medicines are prescribed or altered or if you are hospitalized for any reason.
- Keep your scheduled appointments with your physicians. Until your transplant, you will need to meet with members of the transplant team to routinely evaluate your overall health.
- Participate in support groups. Ask your social worker about support groups and other resources, so you'll have access to more information and can talk with other transplant candidates.
- Follow the dietary and exercise guidelines. Weight management is very important while waiting for your transplant. A dietitian and physical therapist can work with you to plan and develop a diet and exercise program that will give you the greatest benefit before and after transplantation.
- Occupy yourself by staying involved. Spend time doing what you enjoy and stay as active as your physical condition will permit. Keep up with your work, studies and leisure activities, or start a project or hobby that can help distract you and make time pass more quickly.
- Maintain contact with family and friends. Good company will take your mind off of waiting and enrich your life.
- Just relax. Reading or listening to music or relaxation tapes can be helpful in taking your mind off your transplant surgery and avoiding negative thoughts.
- Make sure you are available. It is VERY IMPORTANT for your transplant team to know how to get in touch with you at all times. Pagers, cell phones or remote answering machines may be required by your transplant center. Your transplant coordinator may recommend that you stay within a certain geographic range.
- Be prepared with transportation. When you are placed on the organ waiting list, your first responsibility is to plan how to get to the transplant center as soon as you are notified that an organ is available. Prepare yourself for this call by making the necessary arrangements for transportation well in advance.
- Be prepared by packing your bags in advance. You'll need to be ready to leave as soon as you get the call that a donor organ is available. Be sure to take your insurance information, an extra 24-hour supply of medication and all other necessities.
Periodic testing will need to be done while you are listed to monitor your health. During the waiting time, you are also responsible for notifying the transplant team immediately of changes regarding:
- Phone number
- Changes in medications
- Change in medical condition
- Hospital admissions
- Travel plans
After the surgery you will be taken to the Intensive Care Unit where you will be closely monitored. You will remain on the ventilator for about 24 hours. You will have many tubes and drains in place, including several intravenous catheters (IV), a urinary catheter, a stomach drainage tube and chest tubes.
After the surgery, you will experience pain. Your level of pain will be carefully monitored and controlled through medicines administered through your IV. When you start eating again, the pain medication will be given as pills or tablets.
Your length of stay in the hospital will depend on how fast you recover. Most patients stay in the hospital for about 15 days. How long you must remain in the hospital can vary depending on the severity of your illness before the transplant or complications after surgery. If you are very weak, you may need rehabilitation.
Initially you will receive pain medicine through your IV. Once you are eating again, you will be switched to pain pills. Be sure to let the nurses know if you are in pain so that they can adjust your medication.
When called in for transplant surgery, the nurse will give you directions on when to come to the hospital and where to go.
Heart transplant surgery can take from 4 to 6 hours, but this varies from patient to patient based on the complexity of the operation.
Following transplant you will be on a breathing machine. The tube will be removed as soon as the doctor determines you are well enough to breathe on your own. This is usually done within the first 24 to 48 hours.
After surgery, you will need to time to recover. That's why we set visiting hours. Visiting hours for most hospital patients are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Your incision will be closed with small adhesive bandages called Steristrips. As your wound heals, these bandages will fall off.
Following transplant you will have several doctor's appointments. Heart transplant patients require periodic blood work, radiology testing, echocardiograms and endomyocardial biopsies. These tests monitor how you and your new heart are functioning.
After transplant you will be required to take anti-rejection medications for life to prevent your body from rejecting the transplanted organ.
Before being discharged from the hospital you will be instructed about your personal exercise plan and those activities you should avoid while healing from surgery.
The goal of transplant surgery is to allow you to return to your former activities, including work. It usually takes at least 6 weeks to recover from surgery. Work clearance is given on an individual basis.
You will have several doctor appointments following discharge, including cardiology, surgery and endocrine. You will be given an appointment schedule before you are discharged from the hospital.
You will be given a list of important phone numbers prior to discharge with instructions on whom and when to call.
Rehabilitation is required following transplant to increase strength and endurance. Rehabilitation may be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis. The social worker will assist you in finding a facility close to your home.