Heart Transplant Surgery: Cost, Eligibility Criteria, Procedure, Complications, and more

A heart transplant surgery replaces a failing heart with a healthy heart from a donor. It is considered the last resort for addressing heart conditions and is usually recommended by healthcare providers when all other treatment alternatives have been unfruitful. 

Heart failure is a condition when the heart fails to work as efficiently as it should. As we all know, our whole body requires blood to perform all the vital functions. When the blood flow is inadequate, due to your heart being unable to pump blood properly, disruption occurs, making your heart weak. Heart failure can occur on any side of your heart or could affect both sides of your heart simultaneously.

Are You Eligible For A Heart Transplant?

You must meet the eligibility criteria before you can undergo heart transplant surgery. Not all who need a heart transplant can get it done because, in some cases, it could be quite dangerous. Various factors help your doctor determine if you’re eligible for the surgery. Following is the list of some crucial factors that affect your eligibility:

  • When you have an active infection, your doctor won’t recommend a heart transplant because of the risk of severe complications. 
  • If your doctor believes it would be difficult for you to recover from a heart transplant, then he may not recommend the surgery.
  • If you’re not ready to take precautions following the procedure, your doctor won’t recommend it for you.
  • If you have got a family history of cancer, you may not be a good candidate for a heart transplant. 
  • When you’re suffering from another health condition that could cut short your lifespan even after receiving a heart transplant, then your doctor won’t recommend the procedure.

Understanding The Heart Transplant Surgery

The heart transplant procedure is a bit complicated. It takes many hours for the surgery to be completed. In case this is the second time you’re receiving heart surgery, it can take even longer. It is done through open-heart surgery. Firstly, your surgeon will desensitize your body through general anesthesia so that you sleep and are not conscious enough to feel the pain. Your body must receive oxygen-rich blood, so you’ll be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. 

Next, the surgeon will make an incision that will allow them to operate on your heart. The incision is made in a way that the chest bone is separated and the rib cage opened. The surgeon will then remove your diseased heart. The health donor heart is then stitched in place, and the blood vessels are then connected to the new heart. It allows blood to start flowing, and the heart then starts beating normally. If the donor’s heart encounters trouble beating normally, an electric shock might be given. 

Once the surgery is completed, you’ll receive pain relievers. A ventilator will be used, so you don’t experience any breathing problems post-surgery. The tubes attached to your heart and lungs will drain the fluids after the surgery. You’ll receive medications and fluids intravenously once the surgery has been completed. You’ll need a hospital stay for a couple of days after the heart transplant surgery.

How To Find A Donor For Heart Transplant?

Firstly, you’ll be put on a waiting list after you are eligible for a heart transplant. There may be thousands of other people waiting for hearts like you because there are not enough hearts available at the moment. While you’re waiting for heat, your doctor will consistently monitor your condition. Your treatment can be changed based on your condition when you’re waiting for a heart for the transplantation surgery. 

Some people develop severe conditions where they might not be eligible for a heart transplant anymore. In such a case, your name will be removed from the waiting list until you recover from the medical problems. 

Based on your recovery, your name could be put back on the waiting list. When you’re waiting for a heart, your healthcare providers can recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which provides you with all the necessary details about remaining healthy before and after the heart transplant surgery.

It is also possible that while waiting for a heart, your condition may deteriorate. This is because the treatment you’re undergoing cannot support your vital organs. This can lead to various health complications. In that case, you might require a device called a ventricular assist device to be implanted. This will help stabilize your condition until you receive a donor heart which can be transplanted in place of your diseased heart. 

How To Prepare For Heart Transplant Surgery?

You can prepare for a heart transplant depending upon how long you have to wait for a heart. Create a list of all questions running in your mind about a heart transplant and ask your doctor straight away. For example, you might want to know about the heart transplant cost, the duration of the procedure, and if there are any specific arrangements, you need to make in advance. 

By asking questions about a heart transplant, you can prepare yourself well for the procedure. This will help alleviate your stress levels because getting a heart transplant can be nerve-wracking. Several tests will be conducted to ensure you are eligible for a heart transplant. An evaluation will be made to make sure you are physically and emotionally ready to receive a transplant. Your healthcare specialist will guide you properly to prepare for a transplant depending on your unique case. 

How Much Does A Heart Transplant Cost?

The heart transplant cost can be a critical factor for anyone who needs a heart transplant. For individuals suffering from an end-stage heart condition, the consultation, cost of the medication, and the treatment itself can be awfully expensive. Doctors often recommend patients and their families check if their insurance plan provides coverage for organ transplants. 

The average heart transplant cost ranges between 20 and 25 lakhs. This incorporates pre-transplant evaluation, the surgery itself, and the post-transplant recovery period. The heart transplant cost generally depends on the following factors:

  • Organ Recovery and Transport Charges
  • Hospital Infrastructure and Technology
  • The expertise of competent surgeons, their teams, and the use of revolutionary techniques
  • Duration of stay in the hospital and the category of room opted
  • Any health complications
  • Recovery and Rehabilitation
  • Lifelong medicines post-transplant

Also Read: 08 Best Ways To Prevent Heart Diseases

What Are The Possible Complications Of A Heart Transplant Surgery?

A heart transplant surgery can lead to several risks and complications. Let’s discuss some of them in brief.

After the heart transplant surgery is completed, your doctor will prescribe several medications. These potent medications can give rise to certain side effects. For example, immunosuppressants that you take post-surgery can cause health issues such as kidney damage. You may also develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis due to taking those medications. 

Further, your body can reject the donor heart, which is one of the most serious risks of a heart transplant. Studies suggest that about 10% of people who got a heart transplant can exhibit signs of rejection. This generally occurs in the first year after the transplant has been done. When the new heart is transplanted, your immune system may reject it as it starts to attack it, contemplating that it doesn’t belong to your body.

Usually, medications are given in the case of rejection so that you don’t have to experience any symptoms that indicate rejection. Doctors will monitor you and conduct biopsies regularly, particularly in the first year of transplantation. The biopsies are performed to review your heart tissue, which is a significant indicator of whether the donor’s heart has been rejected or not. 

Cancer is yet another serious risk of heart transplant surgery. Regular checkups are recommended for patients to ensure there isn’t any cancer growth. Immunosuppressants are accountable for increasing the odds of different types of cancer, including skin cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, etc., after a heart transplant. 

Some other heart transplant complications include heart stroke, formation of blood clots, infection, bleeding, or heart attack. 

How Do You Recover From Heart Transplant?

Your healthcare specialist will provide you with complete information about recovery after a transplant. Follow the instructions carefully so that you can recover well. Patients who have had a heart transplant are generally able to lead better lives post-transplant and can return to their usual activities. Recovery may take upto six months, but it can differ from person to person.

As long as you’re taking good care of yourself and taking all the prescribed medications on time, there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re a woman who has had a heart transplant and is planning for a baby, talk to your doctor about it. Normally, women can successfully conceive after a heart transplant, but the medications can lead to complications.

What Precautions To Take After Heart Transplant Surgery?

There are several precautions you need to consider after receiving a heart transplant. They might seem overwhelming but helps ensure you recover fast and can lead a normal life after the transplant. 

Your doctor will prescribe immunosuppressants which are used to make sure your immune system doesn’t attack the donor heart after it has been transplanted. They are generally prescribed lifelong. However, even with immunosuppressants, your immune system may not fully accept the new heart. The main problem with immunosuppressants is that they cause many side effects, specifically in the beginning. 

Immunosuppressants can make you more susceptible to infections because your immune system isn’t working the way it should. For this reason, your healthcare specialist may prescribe some additional medications. In some cases, immunosuppressants can worsen the existing conditions, including high blood pressure or diabetes. They can also increase your odds of developing some other health conditions such as high cholesterol

Listen to what your doctor recommends. That’s the key to better recovery. You may have to consider certain lifestyle changes to avoid infections in the future. Switch to healthy eating habits and exercise in your daily routine, etc., among all other changes.

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Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for CheapMedicineShop.com. She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.