Heart Transplant

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

A heart or cardiac transplant is a major surgical procedure to remove a patient’s diseased or failing heart and replace it with a healthy heart from a donor. The patient’s own heart is either removed (orthotopic, most common) or left in place to support the donor heart (hetertopic and less common).

Most cardiac transplants are done on patients who have end stage heart failure, severe coronary artery disease, congenital (from birth) disease or severe life threatening heart rhythms. Patients may have failed cardiac medical therapy. A cardiac transplant is a life-saving measure and candidates must go through a selection process.   Patients undergoing the selection process must be sick enough to need a transplant, but healthy enough to receive one. 

Learn more about heart transplants at Aurora:

Risks and Side Effects of a Heart Transplant

A heart transplant requires major surgery.  Risks and complications can include infection, organ rejection, and side effects of immunosuppression. The patient’s immune system attempts to reject the transplanted organ and medications must be taken for life to prevent rejection.

How to Prepare for Heart Transplant Surgery

The evaluation for heart transplant is a process initiated by the Heart Failure Clinic at Aurora St Lukes’ Medical Center.  A patient under consideration for transplant receives an extensive medical and psychosocial evaluation. After completion of the evaluation, this information is presented at a selection committee meeting. Approval for transplantation occurs at this meeting.  Patients eligible for a heart transplant are placed on a national waiting list for a donor heart.

Throughout the process the patient is kept informed of evaluation results and status by a Transplant RN Coordinator. When a suitable donor heart becomes available the patient is notified by the Transplant Coordinator or Cardiologist and informed to come to the hospital.

What to Expect during Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart transplantation is major surgery and requires general anesthesia. Surgery may take several hours.  An incision is made along the breast bone and the patient is placed on the heart lung machine, also called cardiopulmonary bypass. The diseased heart is removed and the new donor heart is placed. The heart beat of the new heart is restarted with defibrillation or electrical shocks and possibly medications. The chest is then closed.

Following surgery the patient recovers in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. Family members and friends may stay in the waiting room during the surgery and visit following the procedure.

Recovery after Cardiac Surgery

Initially after surgery the patient has monitoring lines, a ventilator, chest tubes to drain fluid from the chest and a urinary catheter. Gradually these lines and tubes are removed and diet and activity are increased. Immunosuppression or antirejection medications are administered. You will receive education on the purpose of these medications, how to take these medications at home and how to care for yourself.

A multidisciplinary team will be providing care and education. This includes Nurses, Physical, Occupational, and Cardiac Rehabilitation therapists, Dietician and Pharmacists, along with the Cardiologist and Cardiac Surgeon and their staff. Discharge is planned by this team and the patient.  Rejection is monitored by cardiac biopsies, initially done weekly.  Follow-up appointments in the transplant clinic will also be weekly which will include laboratory testing. Your Transplant RN coordinator will keep you informed of the testing, biopsy, and appointment plan. 

Why Chose Aurora for a Heart Transplant?

Aurora Health Care is a national leader in comprehensive cardiovascular services. Aurora offers comprehensive and coordinated care for patient’s eligible for a heart transplant through the initial evaluation to post transplant care. During the process of transplantation Aurora also offers support for the failing heart within the Heart Failure Clinic through the use of medical management or mechanical support devices.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Aurora St. Luke’s has one of the largest programs in Wisconsin and the United States where over 700 patients have received heart transplants. We offer a multi-disciplinary team of experts to provide care. Find a doctor or vascular specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.