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What is heart transplantation?

Irvin H. Naylor Jr., MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Heart transplantation is surgery to remove a severely diseased and failing heart, and replace it with a healthy heart from a donor who has died to treat irreversible, life-threatening heart diseases that cannot be managed using any other type of medical or surgical method.
Cardiac transplantation is the surgical placement of a healthy heart from a human donor into the body of a person whose own heart is badly diseased. The procedure is also referred to as orthotropic cardiac graft.
Left ventricular assist device (LVAD) therapy may be utilized in order to bridge a patient to an eventual heart transplant surgery. This is an FDA-approved procedure performed by heart surgeons that may allow a patient to undergo a successful heart transplantation procedure when during initial screening, it is found the patient may not be initially successful with a primary heart transplantation procedure. Alternatively, some individuals may be found not to be a candidate for heart transplantation and a ventricular assist device may be utilized as destination therapy. This use of a left ventricular assist device as the final therapy for advanced heart failure. These patients with a destination LVAD would live out their lives with the device in place, without the consideration of future transplantation.
Heart transplantation is a surgery where the surgeon takes out the patient's heart and replaces it with a "donor heart." A donor heart comes from a relatively healthy individual, usually younger, who may have lost his life from an accident where another part of his body is damaged but his heart is relatively intact. In that example, if someone had a head injury from a motor vehicle accident and lost the function of their brain, and they were an "organ donor," the heart would be taken out of the body of the donor, kept alive, and brought to the operating room where the recipient patient, who has a failing heart, has their heart taken out and the transplanted heart sewn in its place. The vessels of the receiving patient are then connected to the vessels coming out of the donor heart. The doctors then use medications to help protect that heart from being damaged by the blood cells and the immune system of the recipient patient so that the blood will flow normally throughout the heart, brain, kidneys and rest of the body in the recipient patient. This was pioneered in the early 60s, but now is commonplace in hospitals across the country and is done with improving success in the recent years.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.