Heart Transplant Basics

by Jodee on February 15, 2009

In the United States, approximately 2,300 heart transplants are successfully performed each year. Another 800 people died while on the waiting list. The surgery takes several hours and is one of the most common transplant surgeries performed in North America.

A donor heart is obtained from a person who is brain dead and on a respirator. After the donor heart is harvested, it is kept in a special solution to preserve it until it can be given to the patient who is waiting for it.

During surgery, the patient is given a general anesthetic. The surgeon must first cut through the breast bone to get access to his or her health. A heart-lung bypass machine is used to keep the blood full of oxygen and circulating. The patient’s heart is removed and replaced by the donor heart. After the new heart has been stitched into place, the heart-lung bypass machine is shut off and blood starts to pump through the new heart.

A heart transplant may be performed in patients who have heart failure. This condition may be caused by coronary artery disease, a disease affecting the heart muscle, or congenital heart disease. The surgery has some risks associated with it, including infection and bleeding.

After the surgery, the patient will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives. Taking the medication exposes the patient to an increased risk of infection. For this reason, he or she must be on the lookout for signs of poor health and seek medical attention promptly.

Signing an organ donor card will help to increase the number of hearts available for transplant. If you decide to do so, be sure to share your decision with your family. Signing the card doesn’t mean that you will receive a lower standard of care if you are admitted to hospital, and there are very specific rules about when organs may be harvested for transplant purposes.

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