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Heart Disease and Heart Transplant

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What Is the Process for Getting a Heart Transplant?

In order to get a heart transplant, you must first be placed on a transplant list. But, before you can be placed on the transplant list, you must go through a careful screening process. A team of heart doctors, nurses, social workers, and bioethicists review your medical history, diagnostic test results, social history, and psychological test results to see if you are able to survive the procedure and then comply with the continuous care needed to live a long, healthy life.

Once you are approved, you must wait for a donor to become available. This process can be long and stressful. A supportive network of family and friends is needed to help you through this time. The health care team will monitor you closely to keep your heart failure in control. The hospital must know where to contact you at all times should a heart become available.

How Are Organ Donors Found for Heart Transplants?

Donors for heart transplants are individuals who may have recently died or become brain dead, which means that although their body is being kept alive by machines, the brain has no sign of life. Many times, these donors died as a result of a car accident, severe head injury, or a gunshot wound.

Donors give their permission for organ donation before their death; the donor's family must also give consent for organ donation at the time of the donor's death.

Donor organs are located through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) computerized national waiting list. This waiting list assures equal access and fair distribution of organs when they become available. When a heart becomes available for transplantation, it is given to the best possible match, based on blood type, body size, UNOS status (based on the recipient's medical condition), and the length of time the recipient has been waiting. The race and gender of the donor have no bearing on the match. All donors are screened for Hepatitis B and C and for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Unfortunately, not enough hearts are available for transplant. At any given time, almost 3,500 to 4,000 people are waiting for a heart or heart-lung transplant. A person may wait months for a transplant and more than 25% do not live long enough to get one.

Many people who are waiting for transplantation have mixed feelings, because they are aware that someone must die before an organ becomes available. It may help to know that many donor families feel a sense of peace knowing that some good has come from their loved one's death.

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