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Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart transplant surgery is a major procedure to replace a malfunctioning heart with a healthy donor heart. About 50% of heart transplant patients live 10 years or longer with the new heart, people who otherwise would have little chance of survival on medication or with minor heart surgeries. All potential complications considered, the practice of cardiac transplant is remarkably successful.

Who Is Eligible For Heart Transplant Surgery?

Patients who have tried all other medical and surgical options and are determined to take the necessary lifestyle changes. Eligible patients are usually younger than 65 and have no other life threatening medical problem. The following conditions may call for heart transplantation -

  • Inherited and congenital heart defects
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cardiomyopathy (weakening heart muscles)
  • Diseases of the heart valves

Heart Transplan Procedure

When all other medical means have failed to improve, the physican refers the patient to a heart transplant cencter to evaluate the case and the subject’general health status.

Then the patient is added to the heart transplant waiting list. As there is a global shortage of donor hearts, waiting lists are usually long.

When there is a recently deceased donor, doctors must consider the following aspects before appointing a patient for heart transplant surgery –

  • Severity and urgency of the heart failure
  • Size of the donor heart
  • Blood type

The donor heart must be transplanted within 4 hours of removal so doctors and patients usually do not have much time for contemplation, a decision must be made immediately.

The heart transplant surgery itself is not very long; it takes about 4-5 hours. During the procedure the patient is connected to a heart-lung machine to maintain circulation while the diseased heart is changed to the donor heart. The newly implanted heart receives an electric shock to initiate its beating, but sometimes it starts automatically once the blood flows again in the veins.

For a few days after the operation patients experience heavy breathing, pain and chest pressure, but these side-effects cease after about a week or two. After patients are discharged from hospital, constant check-up is necessary for another three months.

During this period patients will be administered medication to repress your immune system, to reduce the risk that the immune system attacks the foreign tissues. Weakened immune responses should be compensated with antibacterial and antiviral medication.

In the recovery period patients should get used to new lifestyle habits, healthy, regular eating and physical activity. Most cardiac transplant patients can resume their normal activities within 3-6 months but they are instructed to avoid stress and strenuous workout.

The Risks of Heart Transplant Surgery

  • Immune rejection of the new heart may occur in the first year post-surgery. In order to monitor it, regular biopsy is taken from the heart. The signs of rejection are very similar to that of the flu: headache, fever, weakness, dizziness and vomiting.
  • Artificial weakening of the immune system can be a double-edged sword, which can result in viral and bacterial infections.

In spite of the efficiency of the procedure and the relatively few cases of complication, heart transplant surgery has many downsides that need to be addressed in the future –

  • Costs are extremely high, usually several hundreds of dollars
  • Insurers’ reluctance to cover the costs
  • Limited eligibility of patients
  • Scarce donor hearts
  • Slow channels that do not reach the patient in time