Why a Heart Transplant?
The surgical transplant procedure performed when other treatments for heart problems fail resulting in a heart failure is called a heart transplant or cardiac transplant. In most cases, it is performed on adult patients in the final-stage of severe coronary artery disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart myscle), congenital heart defect (a heart problem by birth) and valvular heart disease. As for children, it is performed on those with a cardiomyopathy or congenital heart defect.
For this procedure, a suitable donor heart is first identified. It is mostly from a recently deceased organ donor or brain dead donor. Once identified, the heart is removed from the donor and tested to see if it is in a good working condition by a team of expert heart specialists. After the patient undergoes a series of medical evaluation and pre-surgical medication, the healthy functional heart from the donor is taken and placed it in the place of the patient’s defect heart. A beating heart can be successfully transplanted into a patient by connecting it to an Organ Care System, a special machine, that keeps the heart at body temperature allowing it continue pumping warm oxygenated blood. The patient’s faulty heart is later either fully removed by a procedure called orthotopic procedure or, in extremely rare situations, left inside the patient’s chest to support the donor heart. The latter procedure is called heterotopic procedure.
Once the procedure is completed, the patient is shifted to the ICU to recover. Based on the patient’s ability to take care of the new heart, his general health and how well the new heart functions. However, most doctors prefer the patients to remain in hospital care for one or two weeks. Once discharged from the hospital, the patient may return for check-ups and rehabilitation if emotional support is required. Once the patient adjusts well to the heart transplant, the frequency of hospital visits will decrease.
A heart transplant is not the solution for everyone with a heart problem. Each patient will be individually considered and evaluated by a transplant center before recommending a transplant. Some candidates will not qualify for this procedure due to certain factors such as -
- Age – Those above the age of 65
- A different medical condition that may shorten the patient’s life regardless of a donor heart
- Those with peripheral artery disease (crucial blockages in arteries in legs or arms)
- Past history of cancer
- Those who refuse to quit smoking or drinking and are not willing to makes lifestyle changes that are crucial to keep a donor heart healthy
For such patients, the other option is to get a ventricular assist device (VAD) implanted in the chest. This miniature device will help pump blood efficiently through the patient’s body.
Heart transplantation is not a cure for a heart disease. It is a life-saving surgical procedure that is performed to extent the span and quality of life for the recipient.
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