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Patient's Guide to Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart Transplant Procedure

Heart transplants have been perfected over many years. The following is an example of what will happen:

When an organ that meets your requirements is located, you will be called into the hospital by the nurse coordinator. The transplant doctors will be checking the donor organ while you are being evaluated and started on medications in preparation for transplantation. If the donated organ is good, you will then be taken to the operating room, put to sleep with an anesthetic, and one of the transplant surgeons will begin the process of preparing the chest cavity for removal of your heart.

Heart transplant diagram showing recipient's aorta, pulmonary artery, superior vena cava, partial left atrium, inferior vena cava, and the donor's heart, including the left atrium and right atrium. The donor heart's left atrium is sewn onto the recipient's left atrium.

The surgeon will begin by exposing the chest cavity through a cut in the ribcage. The surgeon will then open the pericardium (a membrane that covers the entire heart) in order to remove your diseased heart. The back part of your own left atrium will be left in place, but the rest of the heart will be removed.

Heart transplant diagram, showing the recipient's superior and inferior vena cava, and the donor heart's right atrium. The donor heart's right atrium is sewn onto the superior and inferior vena cava.

Your new heart will be carefully trimmed and sewn to fit the remaining parts of your old heart. This transplant method is called an "Orthotopic procedure". This is the most common method used to transplant hearts.

Heart transplant diagram showing the transplanted heart with sutures.

You will be given medications both before and during the operation to prevent you from rejecting the new heart. After the operation, you will be taken to a special unit and hospital floor for recovery. You will stay in the hospital until your doctor believes you are ready to go home. How long you stay in the hospital will depend on the following factors:

  • Your health
  • How well the new heart is working
  • Your ability to learn to take care of your new heart transplant



> Next: What You Can Expect When You Wake Up


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