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Heart Failure and Heart Transplants

A heart transplant is the surgical replacement of a person's diseased heart with a healthy donor's heart. The donor is a person who has died and whose family has agreed to donate their loved one's organs.

Since the performance of the first human heart transplant in 1967, heart transplantation has changed from an experimental operation to an established treatment for advanced heart disease. Approximately 2,300 heart transplants are performed each year in the U. S.

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Who Is Considered a Candidate for a Heart Transplant?

People who have advanced (end stage) heart failure, but are otherwise healthy, may be considered for a heart transplant.

The following basic questions should be considered by you, your doctor, and your family to determine if heart transplantation is right for you:

  • Have all other therapies been tried or excluded?
  • Are you likely to die in the near future without the transplant?
  • Are you in generally good health other than the heart or heart and lung disease?
  • Can you adhere to the lifestyle changes, including complex drug treatments and frequent exams, required after a transplant?

If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, heart transplantation may not be for you. Also, if you have additional medical problems, such as other severe diseases, active infections, or severe obesity, you most likely will not be considered a candidate for transplant.

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 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 until a donor heart is found. The hospital must know where to contact you at all times should a heart become available.

How Are Organ Donors Found?

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 generally 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.

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