A heart transplant is when a diseased
heart is replaced by a healthy human heart from a donor.
Because there are not enough suitable and
available donor hearts, not everyone who could benefit from a
transplant can have one.
In 2009 there were 121 heart transplants and 5 heart and
lung transplants at seven hospitals around the UK.
Who might need a heart transplant?
A heart transplant may be considered if you have severe
heart failure, or more rarely
congenital heart disease. Not
everyone who has these conditions is suitable for a transplant.
If your condition is serious and other treatments have not
managed to improve things or control your symptoms, your
cardiologist may send you to a heart transplant centre for a
Waiting for a heart transplant
If you are considered suitable for a heart transplant you will
be added to the transplant waiting list. Once you are on the list,
a suitable heart may come along in a few days, or it may take many
months or even years.
Unfortunately suitable hearts do not become available for
everyone and only about 7 in 10 people on the waiting list receive
a transplant. In the UK, the average waiting time for an
adult is about six months, and the average waiting time for a child
is three months.
Having a heart transplant operation
- The operation usually takes between four and six
hours. You will be given a general anaesthetic.
- The surgeon will make a cut in your breastbone to get access to
your heart.You will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine
which makes the blood circulate around your body.
- Your surgeon will then work on transplanting your new
- When this is finished, they will start your heart beating
again. When the heart begins to take over pumping and your
condition is stable, the heart-lung machine will be turned
- The surgeon will then close your breastbone with wire, which
will stay there for the rest of your life.
- After the operation you will be moved to the intensive care
unit. Most people wake the following day. You will be sedated and
breathe with the help of a ventilator machine until you are able to
breathe for yourself.
It’s natural for you to feel excited,
emotional or anxious about your surgery and life afterwards.
Remember that a transplanted heart is no more than a new pump - it
does not change your personality or behaviour.
If you have any questions or if anything is worrying you, you
can talk to your transplant team, the Transplant Support
Network or call our Heart
Helpline on 0300 330 3311.
What happens after the transplant?
- Most people leave hospital about four weeks after the
operation, but some need to stay in hospital for longer.
- In the first few months after your surgery you will need to
spend a lot of time visiting the hospital – you might even need to
stay near the transplant centre. Your transplant team will talk to
you about practical arrangements for after your surgery.
- Although you will be weak after the operation, recovery can be
very quick. It is important to build up your level of activity
gradually. You should avoid activities involving lifting and
pushing until your breastbone is fully healed, three or four months
- Once you feel fit and able, you may be able to start doing
things like light vacuuming or light gardening.
Life after a heart transplant
Once you’ve recovered from surgery you
should be able to return to a wide range of activities including
driving, holidays and physical activity - some people are even able
to go back to work.
You will need to take a number of medicines, including
immunosuppressants, for the rest of your life. Without them
your body would rapidly recognise your new heart as ‘foreign’ and
try to reject it. This type of medicine can have side-effects
which your doctor will discuss with you.
Many people who have had a successful heart transplant go on to
live long and healthy lives. About 8 in every 10 transplant
patients in the UK live for at least three years after their
operation, with around 7 in 10 living for over five years and
5 in 10 living for over ten years.
Where can I find out more?
transplantation booklet talks in detail about
heart transplantation and is for people who have had, or are
waiting for a heart transplant, and their family and friends.
- The Transplant Support
Network (TSN) are a nationwide network of volunteer
transplant patients and their carers, who provide support and
information for others coping with transplants
- The NHS Blood and
Transplant special health authority within the NHS
provides support to transplantation services across the UK and
makes sure that donated organs are matched and used in a fair
way. They also provide information and statistics on
heart and other transplants.
Do you want to help?
Join the NHS Organ Donation
Register, a register for anyone who wants to donate
their heart or other organs.