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Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Heart Transplant Success/Rejection

A heart transplant replaces a diseased or damaged heart with a healthy new one from a donor. The first year after surgery is the most important. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of heart transplant patients are alive and well one year after their procedure. The annual death rate is approximately 4 percent after the first year. Nearly 75 percent of patients live 3 years or longer. Some patients may live 30 years or longer after their procedure.

Numerous factors influence heart transplant success rate.

The Newark Beth Israel Heart Transplant Program team notes that recipient factors are those that involve the patient or recipient of the new heart. They include:

  • The need for artificial breathing support (ventilator)
  • Heart conditions
  • The need for a ventricular assist device
  • Weight, underweight or obese individuals are at an increased risk of complications

Donor factors are those that involve the donor of the heart or the actual heart itself. They include:

  • Gender – female donors tend to have a greater one-year mortality
  • Age, coronary artery disease risk is increased in hearts from donors over 40-years-old
  • The presence or absence of left ventricular thickening (left ventricular hypertrophy) in the donor's heart
  • Elevated blood levels of heart muscle damage indicators, troponin I and T, increase the risk of early heart failure

Factors that contribute to a successful heart transplant

Newark Beth Israel heart transplant patients are encouraged to take charge of their health and recovery. Newark Beth Israel heart transplant patients receive guidance, support, and advice in regards to:

  • Taking immunosuppressants. Medications that suppress the immune system, thereby decreasing the chances of the body rejecting the donor's heart.
  • Taking other medications. Medications are given to improve heart and overall health.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation. Exercise and education aid in recovery and improve overall health.
  • Lifestyle modifications. Healthy changes increase survival rates and improve quality of life.

Heart transplant rejection

The immune system identifies and attacks foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses, to keep the body healthy. Heart transplant rejection occurs when the immune system recognizes the donor heart as a foreign invader and mounts an attack against it.

Causes

In some cases, not taking immunosuppressants as prescribed can be the cause of heart transplant rejection. Other times, the cause of heart transplant rejection may be unknown.

Symptoms

Newark Beth Israel Heart Transplant specialists explain that symptoms often do not present before a heart transplant rejection, which is why patients need to attend all of their post-operative appointments. During postoperative appointments, comprehensive screening measures take place to ensure the body is accepting the new heart, including:

  • A recent health history and physical exam.
  • Routine biopsies- look for signs of heart transplant rejection.
  • Blood tests- check for genes that may be related to heart transplant rejection.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)- monitors the heart rhythm.
  • Echocardiogram- evaluates heart function.

If symptoms do present, they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the feet, hands, or ankles
  • Flu-like symptoms, aches, and pains
  • Decreased urine output

Treatment

Once a diagnosis of rejection is made, the Newark Beth Israel heart transplant team can prescribe a treatment plan. Considering rejection severity, rejection type, symptoms, and current medications, a provider may:

  • Increase the dose of current medications
  • Prescribe a new medication, with or without discontinuing current medications
  • Prescribe IV (intravenous) medication

Newark Beth Israel’s heart transplant patients may be prescribed plasmapheresis if antibodies are the cause of heart transplant rejection.Adhering to your provider's instructions is an important part of the heart transplant recovery process. Taking medications as prescribed, regularly attending scheduled post-operative appointments, and living a heart-healthy lifestyle improve the chances of heart transplant success.

Patient Stories

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