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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 every year, or more frequently, based on your personal needs.
  • You'll have access to ongoing education while awaiting transplant.

How Long Is the Wait for a Heart Transplant?

All wait times vary.

Heart Transplant Status

Placement on the heart transplant waiting list will be in accordance to specific criteria met for status levels 1 through 6:

  • 1 - 3: Most often hospitalized in ICU to support their heart.
  • 4: This group is often at home but may need IV medications or VAD to support their heart.
  • 6: This group includes all others who are stable enough to remain home while they wait for a heart.

Other factors that may affect your wait time are your:

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

Donor heart availability is difficult to predict.

What Does Status 1-3 Mean for a Heart Transplant?

Patients who are categorized as Status 1 and 2 have top priority in receiving heart transplants. They are often severely ill, may be on advanced life support, and are not expected to survive more than a month. For these reasons, they will be offered an available heart first.

Status 3 patients are the next highest priority. Though expected to live longer than a month, they are likely receiving intravenous medication or other assistance to keep their heart working.

How Do You Get on a Heart Transplant List?

To be placed on the UNOS heart transplant waiting list, you first need to receive a referral from your physician. You can also refer yourself by reaching out to a member of our heart transplant team. Once a referral is submitted, a member of the transplant team will contact you to discuss next steps. This will include scheduling a time to come to the hospital to be evaluated. After your evaluation is completed, the members of the transplant team will discuss your case and decide if heart transplant is in your best interest. Once the transplant team decides that heart transplant is a good fit for you, then you will be added to the national waiting list.

Once you've selected a hospital, you should schedule a time to be evaluated. During this time, if the team members you meet with think you're a good candidate for a transplant, they will add you to the national waiting list.

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 (Status 7) 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," or “status 7," 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

To contact the UPMC Heart Transplant Program, please call 412-648-6202 or toll-free at 844-548-4591. You can also fill out the UPMC Heart Transplant Program contact form to make an appointment or refer a patient.