Heart Transplant | Loyola Medicine

Heart Transplant

Exceptional Outcomes for Heart Transplant Patients since 1984

Loyola Medicine offers the highest level of integrated, multidisciplinary care for advanced heart patients who are in need of a heart transplant. Loyola’s cardiology & heart surgery care is known for taking on the most challenging cases and providing follow-up care for hundreds of heart transplant patients. If you’ve been turned down by another transplant center, consider getting a second opinion at Loyola.

A heart transplant, also called cardiac transplant or heart transplantation, is surgery to remove a damaged or diseased heart and replace it with a healthy donor heart. Preparation for a heart transplant is an extensive process and includes a detailed evaluation, a search for a donor heart, the transplant surgery and a recovery period.

Heart transplant surgery may be a life-saving treatment for individuals with end-stage and advanced heart failure. It is an extensive surgery most often used when other medications and surgical procedures do not work to treat your condition.

While you wait for a heart, you may face other health challenges related to your condition. Loyola’s subspecialists provide expertise in a wide range of health conditions, and your transplant team will facilitate a referral to an appropriate specialist if needed.

At Loyola, you will have an entire team on your side, including your cardiologist, transplant surgeon, LVAD specialists, nurse coordinators, procurement coordinators, infectious disease specialists, nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists, transplant chaplains, physical therapists, dietitians, financial coordinators, clinical pharmacists, social workers and psychologists. We have one goal: restoring you to better health.

What are the Different Types of Heart Transplants?

Heart transplant patients can benefit from two kinds of transplants:

  • Heart transplant — This surgery removes a diseased or damaged heart and replaces it with a donated heart that is a close match to the transplant patient’s tissue type.
  • Heart-lung transplant — In this procedure, the diseased or damaged heart and lungs are removed and replaced with a donated heart and lungs. This is often the recommended therapy for people with severe pulmonary hypertension.

Alternatives to Transplant

Your Loyola surgeon may suggest the following treatments as an alternative to transplant or as a bridge to transplant surgery:

  • LVAD implantation — Loyola’s internationally recognized team of cardiothoracic surgeons specializes in using left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) to treat patients with heart or advanced heart failure.
  • Medical management ­— Your Loyola doctors may prescribe a medication change or increase in dose in order to properly manage your condition while waiting for a suitable organ match.
  • Myocardial revascularization — For patients with ischemic heart disease who are not good candidates for percutaneous coronary intervention or coronary artery bypass graft procedures, this procedure may reduce pain and eliminate the need for medication.
  • Percutaneous VAD implantation — Loyola also offers the TandemHeart® percutaneous ventricular assist device (PVAD) for patients with advanced heart disease.

What Diseases are Treated with Heart Transplant?

Loyola’s cardiologists and transplant surgeons are well versed in every type of heart disease and failure. Your healthcare team will explore conservative treatments first and foremost. If your condition is not well controlled with other treatments, a heart transplant may be the best medical option. Some heart conditions that may require a heart transplant include:

Evaluation and Wait List for Heart Transplants

If your Loyola cardiologist recommends a heart transplant as the next step in your care, your healthcare team will confirm your diagnosis of end-stage heart failure or advanced heart failure and start your heart transplant evaluation. The evaluation has several steps and we will guide you through the process. Your cardiologist will first take a detailed personal and medical history before conducting a physical examination.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may require these tests, among others:

  • Blood tests
  • Cardiopulmonary stress test
  • Carotid ultrasound
  • Chest X-ray
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT scan (computed tomography) of the chest, abdomen and pelvis
  • Dental exam
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Eye exam
  • Left-heart catheterization or coronary angiogram
  • Mammogram
  • Pap smear
  • Pulmonary function test (V/Q scan)
  • Right-heart catheterization
  • Urine test

Some conditions are barriers to transplant surgery, including alcohol and substance abuse problems, an inability to comply with treatment (such as following a strict immunosuppressant drug regimen), a lack of social and financial support, obestiy, certain cancers or uncontrolled or untreatable mental illnesses.

The Medical Review Board will discuss your case and decide whether you are a good candidate for transplant or a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge therapy while you wait for a heart transplant. If you are given approval as a heart transplant candidate, you will be placed on the national waiting list with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Your wait time for a donor heart depends on many factors, including your medical urgency, compatibility to the donor and geography (organs are matched within the same region whenever possible). Your team will instruct you on all aspects of the transplant process, from evaluation to surgery and recovery.

To learn more, read about Loyola’s heart transplant frequently asked questions.

Ongoing Treatment and Recovery after Heart Transplant Surgery

Once you are on the waiting list for a heart transplant, your Loyola team will keep you up to date on all tests and treatments. We will also work with you on your exercise and nutritional plans so that you are ready for surgery once a suitable donor heart is available. Your care team will prepare you for the day that a donor match arrives.

It is extremely important during this time that you keep your scheduled appointments with your medical team and keep them informed of any changes in address, insurance, phone number or vacation plans. Your transplant team must be able to reach you within a moment’s notice if your donor heart becomes available.

Once a donor heart becomes available, your medical team will quickly make the arrangements for your surgery and hospital stay. Your nurse coordinator will inform you and your family about where to go. Time is of the essence, and you will be expected to leave for the hospital shortly after receiving the call that a donor heart is available.

Recovery After Heart Surgery

Before your surgery, you will be given a strict schedule for your immunosuppressive medication, which is very important to follow. You will need to take these medications for the rest of your life to prevent your body from rejecting your donated heart. These medications work by lowering your body’s immune response to the new tissue, but this will make you more vulnerable to infection, especially in the first several months. You should call your nurse coordinator right away if you develop these signs of organ rejection:

  • Chills
  • Extra pain around incision site
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Redness, swelling, bleeding or drainage from incision site
  • Shortness of breath
  • Urinating less than usual
  • Weight gain from water retention

Within the first day, you may notice a difference in how you feel due to your new, healthy heart. Your nurse coordinator will map out your lab tests and doctor visits to assess how your heart is functioning. You will have many lab visits, heart function tests and doctor appointments in the first year after surgery, and gradually your primary care doctor will start to take over your care. Complete recovery time varies from patient to patient.

To learn more, read about our heart transplant frequently asked questions.

What are the Risks of Heart Transplant Surgery?

Whether you have suffered from advanced heart failure, cardiomyopathy or another condition, a heart transplant may be the best treatment for your condition. Yet all surgery involves risks. The risks of heart transplant surgery include:

Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine

Loyola’s Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine houses one of the top-rated cardiovascular programs in the country. This dedicated facility on the Loyola University Medical Center campus brings Loyola’s cardiology and heart transplant specialists together under one roof, helping our doctors better collaborate on patient care and treatment options. We also facilitate lifestyle changes and genetic counseling for family members who are at risk for heart disease.

As a patient at Loyola, you will enjoy improved access to cardiac testing areas, as well as heart and vascular specialists. We provide a comprehensive range of services, including:

  • Cardiac surgical procedures
  • Diagnostic angiography
  • Initial screenings and evaluations
  • Non-invasive diagnostic exams
  • Non-surgical and minimally invasive treatments
  • Vascular testing

In addition to convenience, Loyola facilities offer state-of-the-art technology and procedures for all of your treatment needs including:

  • Cardiovascular interventional lab
  • Electrophysiology lab
  • Hybrid operating room
  • World-class cardiovascular imaging

Ongoing Clinical Trials to Advance Heart Transplant Research

Loyola is conducting research today that will lead to the treatments of tomorrow. As an academic medical center, Loyola can offer groundbreaking treatments through ongoing national trials and clinical research. Our program currently is participating in multicenter clinical trials for disease treatment, LVAD registry, medication usage and clinical outcomes. Loyola patients will be granted access to the latest medications and therapies through our clinical trials.