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Heart Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedure

When a donor heart becomes available, your transplant coordinator will call you.

It's crucial that you get to the hospital right away. We ask people on the heart transplant waiting list to be within 4 hours of UPMC.

Before coming to the hospital for your heart transplant:

  • Do not eat or drink anything.
  • Pack your phone and charger.
  • Bring your medicines.
  • Take a Hibiclens® (antiseptic/antimicrobial liquid soap) shower if able.
  • If you have a ventricular assist device (VAD), bring your equipment.

Prepping for Your Heart Transplant

When you arrive at UPMC, we will prep you for your heart transplant surgery.

The donor team will inspect the heart to make sure it's good for transplant and a match for you.

In the meantime — to make sure you're in good health with no active illnesses — you'll:

  • Complete a medical history and physical.
  • Have blood work.
  • Get x-rays.

Before moving you to the OR, the anesthesiologist will speak with you about what to expect. You'll receive general anesthesia and sleep through the heart transplant procedure.

You will also speak to one of the surgical team members to get consent for the transplant to take place.

How Long Does Heart Transplant Surgery Take?

The amount of time for a heart transplant depends on the complexity of your case and if you need other procedures.

  • If you do not have a VAD, surgery should take 3 or 4 hours.
  • If you have a VAD surgeons needs to remove, or you've had prior chest surgeries, it should take 6 to 8 hours.

You may be in the OR longer than the actual procedure because the transplant team must work with the donor site.

How Do Doctors Perform a Heart Transplant?

During your heart transplant, your surgeon and care team will:

  • Connect you to a heart-lung machine. It does the work of your heart and takes the strain off your lungs. It pumps filtered, oxygen-rich blood into your body so your heart is still during the operation.
  • Remove your diseased heart.
  • Replace it with the healthy donor heart.

How Long Will I Be in the Hospital After My Heart Transplant Surgery?

After your heart transplant, you will:

  • Start taking anti-rejection drugs right away. When your body detects something new, your immune system begins working to fight what it views as a threat. Anti-rejection drugs suppress your immune system's natural response, so your body will accept the new organ.
  • Be in the transplant ICU for 2 or 3 days before moving to a room on the transplant floor.
  • Stay in the hospital for about 7 to 10 days.

During this time, the heart transplant team will:

  • Watch for rejection, infection, or other problems.
  • Teach you coughing and breathing exercises that you'll need to do often. These help keep your lungs clear and prevent pneumonia.
  • Adjust your medications to find the right mix.
  • Work with you and your caregiver to get ready for taking care of yourself at home.

The nutritionist on your care team will also create and review an eating plan for you to follow at home.

Before you leave the hospital, make sure you and your caregiver clearly understand:

  • Your medicine schedule.
  • The meal plan and nutrition guidelines.
  • Any other instructions for at-home care.
  • Your follow-up care schedule (blood work and clinic visits).

For people who need more help after heart transplant surgery, we may suggest spending time in inpatient rehab before going home.

Please feel free to ask members of your UPMC heart transplant team to explain anything you're unsure of and answer your questions. We're here for you through each stage of your transplant journey.

Don't hesitate to call our office at 412-648-6202 or toll-free 844-548-4591 to learn more. Or fill out the UPMC Heart Transplant Program contact form to make an appointment or refer a patient.