Introduction to Heart Transplant
A heart transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a severely damaged or failing heart with a healthy replacement from a recently deceased donor.
What is a Heart Transplant?
A heart transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a severely damaged or failing heart with a healthy replacement from a recently deceased donor. A heart transplant is the end stage management for a heart that is no longer functioning adequately and endangering the person’s life. The usual conditions that can indicate a heart transplant intervention include severe heart failure, which is when the heart can no longer pump sufficient blood around the body, treatment-resistant heart disease or if the person is expected to die within a year without the transplant. The procedure is predominantly performed in adults, however can be performed in children who are born with a serious heart defect.
How is a Heart Transplant performed?
A heart transplant is performed by making a cut in the middle of the chest and your failing heart is removed. Before the surgery begins, you will be connected to a heart bypass machine, which allows blood to be pumped around your body whilst your heart is removed. The donor heart is then connected to your major arteries and the heart should begin to beat normally. The procedure is complex and risky and will usually take between 4-6 hours. Possible surgical complications include a failure of the donor heart pump properly and the body rejecting the donated heart. Modern advances in surgery have dramatically reduced the risks associated with this procedure, however they have not been eliminated. Approximately 1 in 10 people die due to complications within 1 year of the procedure, however the highest risk of death is in the first 30 days.
How to prepare for a Heart Transplant?
Before you are placed on a transplant list, you will have met with your consultant to discuss how your condition will be managed in the interim, and behavioural changes that must be implement if you are to remain eligible. This will include a complete cessation of smoking and strict adherence to prescribed medication. Depending on your health, especially kidney function, you may not be eligible because functioning kidneys are important in processing the medication needed after the operation. When you receive the call that a heart has become available, you must travel to the transplant centre immediately, and so it is important you have made all necessary travel preparations beforehand. The donor heart must be transplanted within hours of being removed from the donor, otherwise it has a high risk of failing.
What happens after a Heart Transplant?
The procedure is very radical and it can take several months to recover from the surgery. You will have frequent follow-up appointments at the transplant centre to ensure the heart is functioning well, and that you are recovering well. Immunosupressant medication is important to prevent the body rejecting the donor heart, however can have serious side effects, so regular monitoring is essential.