Heart Transplant 101

A heart transplant patient gets a second chance at life.
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If you or a loved one is facing advanced heart failure, you might have questions or concerns about a potential heart transplant. How long will you have to wait for surgery, what’s involved, who’s your donor, how long does surgery take and how long will it take to heal are all common questions. To understand everything involved in this life-changing procedure, we spoke with AdventHealth Transplant Institute’s board-certified advanced congestive heart failure and transplant cardiologist, Nirav Raval, MD.

Who’s Eligible for a Heart Transplant?

“Patients that are otherwise healthy, meaning all their other organs are in good shape, that are not older than about 70 years, and have a social care network to help them after the surgery are the best candidates for a heart transplant,” explains Dr. Raval.

The age cap on heart transplants is generally 70 years of age, but that’s not necessarily a hard line. Patients who are older than age 70 and in excellent health aside from their heart may be eligible into their 70s. Transplant surgery is very hard on the body, so the recipient must be in ideal health to ensure the best possible a good outcome.

“We take great care to make certain the gift of life that comes with a new heart is paired with someone who is most likely to have a positive outcome. Across the country, the average wait time for a heart is at least six months, so we do everything in our power to do no harm to the patient or to the gift of life that is a donor heart.”

A transplant selection committee has the final say on who is approved for a transplant and is comprised of the surgeons that will be performing the surgery, other physicians, finance officers, social workers, dieticians, and nurses. Once a consensus is reached by the transplant team and you’ve been selected as a recipient, you’re added to the waiting list.

Waiting Lists and Organ Donors

Once you have been cleared by the selection committee, you will be placed on the national organ donor computerized waiting list that is broken across regions and states to make sure all organs are allocated in the most optimal condition and in an equitable and fair manner.

Currently, the waiting time for a replacement heart is under a year but those with the greatest need are given top priority based on a national scoring protocol. Once our local committee has agreed that you require a transplant you’re added to the list and given an objective score.

The waiting times in Florida for a heart transplant are considerably shorter than in other parts of the country due to our population size.

Once you’ve made it to the top of the list and a donor organ that’s matched for you becomes available, the surgery can commence.

What’s Involved in the Surgery and Recovery?

“Heart transplant surgery generally takes about four hours and is a highly orchestrated event. One surgeon goes to examine the donor heart while the other surgeon preps the recipient,” explains Dr. Raval. “They then work together to remove the diseased heart and implant the donor heart.”

After the surgery you’ll be left with a scar in the middle of your chest that generally heals up well, but everyone scars differently, and some recipients are left with larger scars than others. The chest wall is wired together to ensure that it stays closed and although it’s made of stainless steel it will not set off metal detectors the way a hip replacement may.

Most patients leave the cardio-thoracic ICU in three to four days after the surgery if there are no complications. After the ICU you’ll be moved to a general admittance hospital room to continue recovering for the next ten to twelve days where the transplant team can monitor your progress.

For the first 12 weeks you’ll have three cardiac rehabilitation sessions a week to rebuild your strength and stamina. Once your time in the hospital is over you’ll need to see your transplant team once a week for the first four weeks. After that, it will be once every two weeks for the first year and in the second year you’ll only have to see them once every two months for check-ups.

Why AdventHealth for Your Heart Transplant?

“We have some of the best outcomes in the nation, our culture is one of family and faith, and we don’t just treat your disease but your whole health and well-being, as well. We are the 8thlargest provider of heart transplants in the U.S. and we have an excellent track record and very high survival rates,” says Dr Raval.

To learn more click here or call Call407-303-2474 to speak with a heart transplant specialist.

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