HeartTransplant

The Gift Of Life

At 16, Meghan Zierke was diagnosed with a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. By her late 20s, she couldn’t walk without getting sick and was out of options – until she received the gift of life at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Overview

Saving Lives Through Heart Transplant

If you need a heart transplant to treat advanced heart failure, you may feel worried or frightened – and most likely have a lot of questions, too.

We’re here to help you and your family prepare for your heart transplant. During your surgery and your recovery, we’ll provide expert, compassionate care.

At Aurora Health Care, heart transplantation is close to our hearts. In fact, we completed the Midwest’s first heart transplant in 1968, just a few months after the first heart transplant in the world. Over the past 50 years, we’ve performed almost 900 heart transplants.

Aurora’s heart transplant recipients have results that are better than national averages. That means they are living longer with their new heart than people who receive a heart transplant elsewhere.

We’re proud that our personalized care and expertise keep people healthier for years after their transplant. After all, living longer means more time for family, friends and everything else that makes life precious.

World-Class Care

Wisconsin’s Heart Transplant Leaders

We understand that good health goes beyond our excellent results. The heart of the matter is how we care for you before, during and after surgery.

When you come to Aurora for heart transplant, you can count on:

  • Experienced surgeons: We perform an average of 25 to 30 heart transplants every year. To put that in perspective, more than 60% of transplant programs worldwide only perform 10 to 15 heart transplants yearly. Having more experience means our surgeons know what works for people who need a heart transplant. Meet our cardiovascular and thoracic team.
  • Exceptional results: For more than 15 years, our transplant recipients have had survival rates that beat the national average. That means our recipients, and their hearts, often recover better than statistics might predict they would. This pattern holds true one year, three years and five years after transplant. It’s also true for some people we treat who are particularly ill and can’t receive care elsewhere. Find out more about our accomplishments.
  • Ventricular assist device (VAD) options: We provide VADs to people who are waiting for a heart transplant or who can’t receive a transplant. We’ve implanted nearly 800 of these VADs, or artificial heart pumps. Our number of VAD implantations combined with our number of heart transplants puts us among the world’s top 10 busiest programs for these two procedures. Read more about ventricular assist device (VAD).

Our Transplant Services department transplants other organs, too. We offer kidney, liver and pancreas transplantation. Learn more about our transplant services.

What to Expect

What to Expect Before a Heart Transplant

If you’re suffering from congestive heart failure, severe coronary artery disease or a heart defect that medications can’t heal, you may need a heart transplant to save your life.

The process can seem overwhelming, but your transplant coordinator and transplant team are available to address all of your concerns.

We’ll help you prepare with:

  1. Answers to your questions: Your transplant coordinator at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center will call you to discuss the transplant process and answer any questions.
  2. Complete medical exam: Your transplant clinic team will perform diagnostic tests to understand whether a transplant is likely to help you live longer, in better health. We’ll also talk with you and your family about your goals and preferences. We’ll help you to understand how transplantation may affect your life and what your other options are.
  3. Evaluation and waitlist: A group of cardiac (heart) and transplant experts will review your medical history, lifestyle and other needs. Together with you, we’ll determine whether transplantation is your best option. If so, we’ll register you with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waitlist. This national list matches transplant recipients with available organs, based on health status, location and other guidelines.
  4. Health support: You’ll meet regularly with your transplant team so we can keep you as healthy as possible while you await transplantation. Your transplant doctors and nurse coordinator will monitor you closely during the waiting period.
  5. Emotional support: The wait for a matching heart can range from a few days to a few years. We understand that waiting for a heart transplant is difficult, and we’ll provide both emotional and medical support.
  6. Financial preparation: We’ll help you understand your financial options, and we’ll obtain pre-certification from your health plan. We are a preferred program for all major insurance providers. We’re also the only program in Wisconsin consistently certified by Medicare and Medicaid services to provide all forms of heart replacement options, including heart transplant and VAD.

The Procedure

The Heart Transplant Procedure

During a heart transplant, a surgeon replaces your heart with a healthy heart from a donor. Once your new heart starts beating, you can live longer and with a better quality of life.

Here’s what to expect from the transplant procedure:

  1. A heart becomes available: When a suitable donor heart becomes available, our team will call you to the hospital. You’ll need to arrive at the hospital within a few hours. Your doctor and nurse coordinator will discuss how to stay in close touch with us while waiting for your new heart.
  2. Doctors prepare you for your transplant: At the hospital, we’ll do some tests to make sure your body is ready for transplant. We’ll then prepare you for surgery.
  3. Your surgical team puts you to sleep at the start of your procedure: In the operating room, you’ll be put under general anesthesia, so you’re completely asleep and won’t feel any pain. Your anesthesiologist will put in a central line, which is a large IV for delivering medications. Another line will be used to monitor your heart function. You’ll also get a breathing tube, connected to a breathing machine (ventilator) and a catheter to empty your bladder.
  4. Your surgical team performs the transplant: Your surgeon makes an incision along the breast bone. You will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which allows your surgeon to stop your heart from beating and keeps your blood circulating while the heart is stopped. Your diseased heart will be removed and the donor heart placed. Your surgeon may use electrical shocks (defibrillation) and possibly medications to restart the donor heart and then close your incision. There will also be temporary drainage tubes inserted into your chest cavity to drain blood and fluid. Transplant surgery takes four to six hours. Because our team performs a high number of heart transplant procedures, we have the expertise to manage any challenge that may arise through the transplant process.

Recovery

Recovering After Heart Transplant

When you wake up, your new heart will be beating, and you’ll be ready to move to recovery. After your heart transplant surgery, you’ll recover in one of our specialized intensive care units at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Most people stay in the hospital for about two weeks after their transplant. Your post-transplant care will include:

  1. Monitoring: Your transplant team will monitor you closely for signs of infection, rejection and medication side effects.
  2. Rehabilitation: While you are recovering in the hospital, you may start physical therapy or cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehab will help you regain your strength so you can return to normal daily activities.
  3. Regular check-ups: You’ll visit our transplant clinic regularly so we can make sure you’re recovering well. You may have blood tests, radiological studies (X-rays or other imaging) or biopsies during your visits. You’ll also receive ongoing education and support. If you live far away, we’ll work with your doctor to have blood and lab work done nearby and sent to us. Find out more about heart and vascular diagnosis and testing.
  4. Maintenance medications: As you recover, your doctors will fine-tune your immunosuppressive medications. These are medications that help prevent your body from rejecting your new heart. You’ll keep taking these medications for the rest of your life.

Within a few months, you should feel strong enough to go back to work and resume daily activities. We’ll be here for you for the rest of your life, whenever you have questions or need support.

Contact Us

Learn More About Heart Transplant

To make an appointment or get more information, please call 888-649-6892.

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