Heart Transplant FAQs | Transplant | Loyola Medicine

Heart Transplant FAQs

Common Questions about Heart Transplants

If your Loyola cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon has recommended a heart transplant as your best medical option, we understand that you will have many questions.

Loyola’s cardiology & heart surgery care is ranked among the top 50 in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Loyola 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.

We expect that you have many concerns about your transplant surgery and are available to answer your questions at your appointment times or by phone at 708-327-2738.

Loyola’s multidisciplinary team is widely recognized for its expertise in helping heart transplant candidates maintain the best health possible while waiting for surgery. Once you are placed on the national waiting list, you will receive extensive patient education to prepare you.

What to Expect Before Heart Transplant Surgery

How can I become a donor or encourage a friend to become a donor? Loyola Medicine has partnered with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network as part of the Hospitals for Hope campaign. You can register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at the Hospitals for Hope website. Your decision can make an impact that will save and enhance countless lives. 

How long should I expect to wait for a transplant? In our region, the average wait time for a heart on the national waiting list is seven months. Your Loyola transplant team will continue to manage your condition and keep you healthy until you receive your transplant.

Who pays for the operation? Insurance, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid, will pay for your evaluation and surgery. Please contact your insurance company for specific levels of coverage.

How can I find out if I need a heart transplant? Talk to your cardiologist to see if a heart transplant is right for you. You also can contact our team at 708-327-2738, and a transplant nurse will answer your questions.

How do I know if I qualify for a heart transplant? 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, your doctors will review your results and propose the best treatment for you. Learn more about our evaluation for heart transplant process.

What does a heart transplant evaluation involve? Once patients are identified as potential heart transplant candidates, they undergo several days of extensive 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.

What is the age limit for heart transplant surgery? Heart transplants are routinely performed for patients of all ages. A person will not be denied a transplant based on age alone. 

What does it mean to be on “the list” for a heart or heart-lung transplant? Once you are deemed a suitable transplant candidate, your name will be placed on the national waiting list with the United Network for Organ Sharing, also known as UNOS. You can visit the UNOS website for research and educational articles on transplant surgery.

What should I be doing while I wait for a donor? Waiting for a donor heart can be a stressful experience. During this time, there are important steps that transplant candidates can take to ensure they are ready for surgery when the important call comes. In some cases, a patient may need to undergo a heart pump surgery, also known as a left ventricular assist device implantation (LVAD), while waiting for a transplant. Let your healthcare team know if any of your contact information changes, so they may contact you right away if a heart becomes available.

What tests may be required before my surgery? Periodic testing will be required to monitor your health while you are waiting for a donor.

Where do I go for surgery? When called in for transplant surgery, your nurse coordinator will give you instructions on when to come to the hospital and where to go.

How long is the surgery? Heart transplant surgery can take from six to 12 hours, with variation from patient to patient based on the complexity of the operation.

What to Expect After Heart Transplant Surgery

What can I expect after transplant surgery? After your transplant surgery, you will be taken to the intensive care unit, where you will be closely monitored. Your hospital stay can vary depending on the severity of your illness before the transplant or other factors.

What type of pain control will I have? Your level of pain will be carefully monitored and controlled with medicine administered through your IV. When you start eating again, the pain medication will be given as pills or tablets.

Will I have a breathing tube after my surgery? Following transplant surgery, you will be on a breathing machine. The tube will be removed as soon as your doctor determines that you are well enough to breathe on your own. This is usually done within the first 24 to 48 hours.

What are the visiting hours? Visiting hours are set to allow you the time to recover after your surgery. Visiting hours for most hospital patients at Loyola are from 9 am to 9 pm.

Are there external stitches that need to be removed? Your incision will be closed with small adhesive bandages. As your wound heals, these bandages will fall off.

What follow-up care is required after my transplant? Following transplant surgery, you will have several follow-up appointments. Heart transplant patients require periodic blood work, radiology testing, echocardiograms and endomyocardial biopsies (EMB). These tests monitor how your new heart is functioning.

How long will I have to take anti-rejection medications? You will have to take these medications for as long as you have a transplanted organ. The anti-rejection medications are extremely important and must be taken every day, preferably at the same time, to prevent rejection.

What activities can I do at home? Before being discharged from the hospital, you will be instructed about your exercise plan and activities to avoid while healing from surgery.

When can I return to work? The goal of transplant surgery is to allow you to return to your former activities, including work. Work clearance is given on an individual basis.

What doctor appointments will I have? You will have several follow-up appointments after being discharged from the hospital, including cardiology, surgery and endocrine visits. You will be given an appointment schedule before you are discharged from the hospital.

Whom do I call if I have questions or problems? You will be given a list of important phone numbers with instructions on whom and when to call prior to discharge.

Will I have rehabilitation after my procedure? Rehabilitation is required following transplant to increase strength and endurance. Rehabilitation can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Your social worker will assist you in finding a convinient rehabilitation facility.