Not every patient with advanced heart failure will need a heart transplant. We carefully evaluate each patient to ensure that the option is pursued only when all others have been exhausted.
Heart Transplant Clinic: Comprehensive, Personalized Care
The Heart Transplant Clinic is the dedicated, central home for our patient’s pre-transplant evaluation and post-transplant care. To meet the many needs transplant patients may face, the clinic’s multidisciplinary team of experts includes transplant coordinators, dietitians, pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, case managers and financial counselors. We understand that the overall quality of care before, during and after a patient’s transplant surgery is crucial to a successful transplant process.
Preparing for Heart Transplant
Before transplant, patients are thoroughly screened to ensure that they are healthy enough for transplant. The evaluation covers mental and physical health, and includes blood tests, a medical history review and diagnostic tests of the lungs and other body systems.
Once accepted for transplant, patients are placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) wait list. Transplant coordinators facilitate education for patients and families to help them take the best care of themselves once out of the hospital.
Heart Transplant Surgery
Heart transplant surgery is complex and the approach varies based on each patient’s unique needs. The entire process is orchestrated by transplant coordinators who guide patients and their families through each step. Generally, surgery lasts about four to five hours.
Heart transplant at Froedtert Hospital involves the skills of heart surgeons, transplant cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, technicians and other professionals, all specialists in the procedure. They prepare patients for surgery and administer general anesthesia to help them remain unconscious during the surgery.
Once patients are asleep, surgeons make an incision down the center of the chest and separate the two halves of the breastbone to allow access to the heart. The patient’s blood supply is rerouted temporarily from the heart to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine (heart-lung machine). At this point, the patient’s diseased heart is removed, the healthy donor heart implanted and the patient’s blood supply connected to the new heart. Physicians then shock the heart to start it beating and pumping blood.
Following a thorough check of the heart’s function and the blood connections, the breastbones are rejoined and the chest incision closed. Patients then proceed to the recovery room.
Recovery From Heart Transplant Surgery
Following surgery, heart transplant patients receive care in the cardiovascular intensive care unit for two or three days until they are moved to a surgical nursing unit when their condition is more stable. Nurses who staff the units are specially trained to care for heart transplant patients. Post-transplant patients are seen daily by cardiologists for the medical component of their care, and by heart transplant surgeons for post-surgical care. Patients can expect to be in the hospital for about two weeks.
Life-Long Transplant Care Resources
Heart transplant patients need follow-up care for the rest of their lives. Patients may also need pacemakers or other heart and vascular care in the years following their heart transplants. Our Heart and Vascular team provides the full continuum of heart care options. Additionally we offer a Transplant Support Group that is open to any heart, lung or abdominal (liver, kidney and pancreas) transplant patient and their caregivers.
Post-transplant coordinators in our Heart Transplant Clinic work with patients to coordinate every aspect of their follow-up transplant care. Having dedicated, experienced staff and knowledgeable resources all in one location gives patients a familiar place where their unique needs are well-understood and met.For more information about the heart transplant process, see our FAQ.
Transplant and the COVID-19 Vaccine
Transplant patients may be at a higher risk of severe COVID-19, and we have seen worse outcomes if they do get it. Due to the increased risk, we recommend transplant patients get the vaccine.