Living Donation

Heart Transplant Waiting List

Once you're on the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) heart transplant waiting list, the next phase of your journey begins.

While you wait for your new heart:

  • Your transplant cardiologist will schedule follow-up appointments based on your personal needs.
  • You will see your heart transplant surgeon once a year if you have a longer wait time.
  • You'll have access to attend classes at UPMC every other month. You may find it helpful to learn more from transplant team members or social workers during this time.

How Long Is the Wait for a Heart Transplant?

All wait times vary.

Placement on the heart transplant waiting list is by the following priority status:

  • 1a = highest priority. Most often, these people are in the ICU to support their heart while on the waiting list.
  • 1b = medium. This group is often at home but may need IV medications or other treatment to support their heart.
  • 2 = less urgent. This group includes all others who can remain stable at home while they wait for a heart.

Other factors that may affect your wait time are your:

  • Blood type.
  • Height and weight.
  • Geographic area.

There also may be a shortage of donor hearts.

Staying Close to UPMC While You Wait for Your Donor Heart

While you're on the heart transplant waiting list, you may need to stay in Pittsburgh.

We ask that you live within four hours of UPMC. Once a donor heart is ready, you'll need to get to the hospital quickly to have your transplant.

Family House is an affordable “home away from home” for heart transplant patients and their families.

Maintaining your health as much as possible is crucial during the waiting stage of your heart transplant journey.

While you wait for a donor heart, we'll manage your illness through our Advanced Heart Failure Center or Artificial Heart Program.

If you have advanced heart failure, you may need a ventricular assist device (VAD) as a bridge to transplant. Doctors may implant this device if your size or blood type means you're likely to wait longer for a donor heart.

The VAD:

  • Pumps blood for you when you have a weakened heart muscle.
  • Allows you to live a healthier, more active life while you wait for transplant.
  • May also lengthen your time on the waitlist. You must heal from the implant surgery before you can have a heart transplant.

When Your New Heart Becomes Available

When we find a good match and assign you a donor heart, your transplant coordinator will call you right away. He or she will let you know what happens next.

While you travel to the hospital, the UPMC heart transplant team continues to assess the donor heart.

If the team finds the heart:

  • Is right for you, we'll begin to prepare you for heart transplant surgery once you arrive.
  • Is not a good match, we'll send you home and keep you on the waitlist.

Becoming Inactive on the Heart Transplant Waiting List

Surgeons must transplant a donor heart within a certain amount of time. You will always need to be within four hours of the hospital while you're on the heart transplant waiting list.

Please inform your transplant coordinator of any travel that will take you outside the four-hour window.

If you must travel, we may place you in an “inactive status” on the list.

Other reasons for an inactive status include:

  • Needing further tests.
  • Having certain health problems that might increase your risk of transplant surgery.
  • Not following the treatment plan from your heart transplant team.

Contact the UPMC Heart Transplant Program today to make an appointment or refer a patient.