What Happens During a Transplant Surgery?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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During a transplant surgery, a diseased or impaired organ is usually removed from a patient’s body and replaced with a healthy organ. To ensure blood flow to the new organ, surgeons must connect the patient’s blood vessels to it. In some cases, surgeons connect other body structures to the new organ as well. For example, ureters, which transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder, are also connected to the new kidneys in a kidney transplant operation.

Before transplant surgery begins, a medical team usually takes steps to prepare the patient for surgery. Usually, this involves giving the patient anesthesia to keep him unconscious during the surgery as well as cleaning and shaving the part of the body into which the organ will be transplanted. The medical team also inserts an intravenous (IV) tube into the patient’s arm and uses it to deliver a drug that prevents the patient’s blood from clotting during the surgery.


To perform transplant surgery, doctors create an incision through which they can enter the body and disconnect the organ from the blood vessels and other structures to which it is connected. In some cases, it is necessary to alter or move other body structures in order to get to the organ in question. For example, surgeons have to saw through a person’s breast bone and move his ribs to perform a heart transplant. After removing the diseased or non-functioning organ, surgeons attach the blood vessels and other important internal structures to it before closing the patient’s incision.

In most cases, surgeons must perform other steps to ensure that the transplanted organ is working before they conclude the surgery and stitch the incision shut. For example, with a heart transplant surgery, surgeons usually warm the patient’s blood in an effort to encourage the heart to start beating spontaneously. This doesn’t always work, however. When it fails to work as planned, doctors typically use an electrical shock to start the transplanted heart.

Depending on the type of transplant in question, surgeons use a range of techniques to support the patient’s life during transplant surgery. For example, surgeons usually place a tube into the patient’s windpipe to help maintain his breathing during the surgery. Surgeons may also feed a tube into the patient’s nose to empty the stomach during the surgery and the initial days of recovery. A catheter is often placed in a patient’s bladder via his urethra to facilitate the drainage of urine during surgery and for the first few days of post-operative recovery. Surgeons may also use tubes to drain blood from around the transplant site; these often stay in place for about a week after surgery.


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