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What is Involved in Heart Transplant Surgery?

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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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There are several steps involved when heart transplant surgery is performed. The first step is locating and harvesting a suitable donor heart to use. A surgeon must then remove the patient’s diseased or damaged heart, and replace it with the donor organ. Afterward, the patient must be monitored to ensure the procedure was a success, and special medications are given to keep the patient’s body from rejecting the new heart.

In order to have heart transplant surgery, it is first necessary to find the patient a new heart. There are several factors that play a role in this process. The recipient must be a suitable candidate, meaning his heart is damaged to the point it needs to be replaced, he is in relatively good health otherwise, and is able to accommodate the lifestyle changes necessary to care for a new heart. A donor must also become available, and his or her immune system must be compatible with that of the recipient; it may take months or even years for this to occur. Once the donor organ is available, a surgeon must remove it from the donor and transport it quickly to the recipient to be implanted.

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The next steps in heart transplant surgery are removal of the patient’s damaged heart and replacement with the donor heart. The patient will be in a hospital under anesthesia during the procedure, with a machine acting as heart and lungs to pump blood and oxygen through the body. The old heart will be removed, which may be very simple or more complicated if there is scarring from previous surgeries. The new heart is then placed in the chest and sutured to the necessary blood vessels. The entire process usually takes several hours to complete.

Once heart transplant surgery is completed, the patient will typically be in the hospital for about a week or two. He will be monitored via tests such as blood tests, chest X-rays, and EKGs to ensure the transplant was successful. It is also typical for the patient to begin receiving anti-rejection drugs immediately through an IV to prevent the body from attacking the foreign organ. Once immediate recovery from surgery is completed, the patient will need to continue taking anti-rejection medication at home, and will also need to receive follow-up medical care to check his overall health and the health of his new heart.

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