Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Transplants

Center for Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant

FAQ - Frequently Asked QuestionsWho is a candidate for a heart transplant?

The patients who need transplants are usually those who have had chronic heart failure and are in end-stage heart disease. Heart transplant candidates have usually exhausted all other medical therapies and are beginning to fail on their current medications. The vast majority of patients usually have some form of coronary disease or if not, they might have a genetic issue. There are numerous causes for end-stage heart failure but the most common one is coronary disease.

How do I know if I qualify for a heart transplant?

Once you have been identified as a potential candidate for a heart transplant, your doctor will prescribe many diagnostic tests — including imaging tests and blood tests — to make sure that you have a likelihood of having good long-term survival once you have your heart transplant. There is a list of anywhere from 25 to 35 items, looking at every single organ system in your body. As an outpatient, these tests can often take several weeks.

What is recovery like after a heart transplant?

Immediately after the heart transplant, when you wake up from the surgery, you will most likely feel great right away. Most heart transplant patients say that they can breathe more easily. Their skin is usually pink, which it likely was not before the transplant. The usual pain that patients have after any kind of open-heart operation from the incision is usually mitigated by the fact that they just feel so good after they have their new heart.

Within the first couple of days of a heart transplant, you will usually be walking around. It will be about six weeks before you feel fully physically recovered — enough to drive and play golf, for example.

What should I expect in the first six months after a heart transplant?

The first six months after a heart transplant are probably the most crucial in terms of healing. During this time, you will have regular biopsies performed by cardiologists to ensure that the heart is not being rejected. You will need to follow your doctor’s advice carefully to prevent potential infection.

What is a heart biopsy like?

Heart biopsies are simple procedures done by a cardiologist in a catheterization lab, under radiological guidance. They often take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The cardiologist will thread a catheter into the jugular vein in your neck and take one or more tiny little pieces of heart muscle the size of pinheads. A pathologist will review the samples to make sure your body is not rejecting the heart.

How often will I need heart biopsies?

Heart biopsies are initially done weekly for the first six weeks and then every two weeks after that and then further apart as directed by your doctor until a year has passed. Then they are usually done annually.

Will I have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of my life?

Yes. Immunosuppression drugs are critically important. They suppress your immune system to ensure that you don't reject the donor heart. Transplant coordinators and nurses will educate you and your caregiver and make sure you understand the need to take these medications regularly, and how and when to take them.

What is Newark Beth Israel known for when it comes to heart transplants?

Newark Beth Israel Medical Center's (NBI) Center for Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant is one of only a dozen centers in the nation that has performed more than 1,100 heart transplants and is ranked among the top 15 programs in the country.

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