Most heart transplants are performed to treat serious heart conditions that lead to advanced heart failure. These conditions are often managed for a long time with medications and lifestyle but sometimes result in the need for heart transplantation.
If you’ve been told you need a heart transplant, we’re here to provide you with all the details of this process, from finding a transplant center to recovering from your operation. If you have questions about the information provided here, please visit our Q&A tab or post a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
The first step in your transplant journey is to choose a transplant center. This webinar, "Transplant 101: Preparing for Your Journey," can help you navigate that process. When it comes to finding a transplant center, it’s important you educate yourself about the aspects of choosing your care.
When you connect with a transplant center, you will have a variety of appointments and tests to make sure you are a good candidate and to prepare for the transplant.
Mayo Clinic is taking precautions to provide safe care based on each patient’s specific needs in regards to COVID-19. Click here to get the most up to date information. During your transplant evaluation, your care team will discuss how these precautions will impact you as a recipient.
Tests and screening
Your health screenings will determine if you are a good candidate for transplant. You must be strong enough to receive a transplant, and the testing and consultation will show if you are in good shape to undergo surgery. As part of your evaluation for transplant, you will receive a complete physical exam, including x-rays, blood tests and urine tests. Your physician may recommend additional tests to determine your readiness for surgery.
Mayo Clinic surgeons perform heart transplants alone and combination heart-lung, heart-liver, heart-lung-liver and heart-kidney transplants. Your doctor will discuss with you the best option for your condition. Learn more about preparing for surgery, including tips on what to pack in your hospital bag.
Ventricular Assist Device
A ventricular assist device (VAD)—also known as a mechanical circulatory support device—is an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of your heart to the rest of your body. A VAD is used in people who have weakened hearts or heart failure. You may have a VAD implanted while you wait for a heart transplant; this is referred to as a “bridge to transplant”. Learn more.
As with any operation, there are risks involved. Some of the risks of this surgery are the same as any surgery: infection, bleeding and blood clots. Rare complications from surgery include heart attack, stroke and death. Your team will discuss risks with you in detail.
The length of stay and recovery post transplantation varies with each individual. Heart transplant patients begin recovery in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a few days and are then moved to a regular hospital room. Most patients remain in the hospital for one to two weeks but again, length of stay in both the ICU and hospital varies from person to person. After being discharged from the hospital, your transplant team will monitor you at an outpatient transplant center. Due to the frequency and intensity of monitoring, many people stay close to the transplant center for the first three months. Many stay in our transplant houses, you can learn more about these here.
Recovery from a heart transplant is a long process and will involve some lifestyle changes including diet and exercise changes. A nutrition specialist can discuss your nutrition and diet needs and answer any questions you might have after your transplant as well as provide you with several healthy food options and ideas. You can also expect to participate in cardiac rehabilitation to help improve your strength, endurance and energy after transplantation. Exercising will need to be a regular part of your life after transplantation to continue to improve your overall physical and mental health.
After your first three months of intense follow ups, the follow-up visits are less frequent and it’s easier to travel back and forth. You will be asked to return every year for an annual evaluation. Learn more about post-transplant care.
Mayo Clinic doctors and surgeons have experience evaluating and treating people with complex conditions who may need multiorgan transplants. For heart transplant specifically, Mayo Clinic has the following options for multiorgan transplant: heart-lung, heart-liver, heart-kidney and heart-lung-liver. Your care team will discuss with you the best option treatment option for your condition. Learn more about multiorgan transplants at Mayo Clinic.
It’s natural to be concerned about the financial aspects of receiving a transplant, but the following information will give you a better sense of what is generally covered by health insurance and how to get assistance, if needed.
The good news is that your insurance should cover the medical costs associated with your transplant. However, insurance may not cover travel, lodging, lost wages and other non-medical costs. After your procedure, you may be entitled to disability pay if you have disability coverage through your employer or another source.
Returning to work
Before your transplant, inform your employer about the surgery and when your medical team expects you will be able to return to work. Ask about disability insurance coverage and possible paid time off. Before returning to work, make your employer aware of any physical restrictions or short-term special needs. It’s very important that you follow the recommendations of your care team regarding work activities.
Support and resources
Many patients cannot afford to pay for the full cost of a transplant procedure, or even an insurance deductible, using personal funds. Fortunately, several options are available to provide financial support for transplant patients and their families. Learn more about Mayo Clinic charity care.
Also, UNOS's Transplant Living program maintains a list of organizations that provide financial assistance. Learn more.
Involving your family and friends
Family and friends can provide support and comfort before, during and after the transplant process. They can help locate and contact resources and care for you after your surgery. By keeping them involved in the transplant process, you open yourself up to encouragement, support and a better emotional recovery.
Having a dedicated caregiver is required for transplant. This can be a spouse, parent, sibling or friend. You may have more than one caregiver during your transplant journey. Committed caregivers play a big part in a successful transplant. Your caregivers need to be in good physical and emotional health and should be able to get you to and from your appointments, help with medications, and help with daily routines. Here’s a great Q&A with Steve Vorseth, a Licensed Master Social Worker in the Transplant Center at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Phoenix, covering the vital role the caregiver plays before and after transplant surgery.
Finding a support group
Sharing your concerns, fears, struggles, experiences and triumphs with loved ones, as well as fellow recipients and donors can be comforting. Support is available through a variety of venues. You can find others here who have walked in your shoes, or talk to your social worker about finding a support group in your area that meets in person. Connecting with others in the transplant community can help you make lifelong friends and find opportunities to promote the need for organ donation.