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Heart & Vascular Institute

Heart Transplant Frequently Asked Questions

Living with end-stage heart disease and facing a heart transplant can be scary. At Temple, we know you have questions and want information to help you feel confident about what's ahead. We're here to share what we know and what we've learned from performing more than 1,140 heart transplants.

These commonly asked questions and answers will help you understand more about the heart transplant process:

Heart Transplant Evaluation Process

How do I start the transplant evaluation process?

Typically, your cardiologist will refer you or recommend to the transplant center to start the evaluation process. However, patients can also independently review and choose their transplant center. Patients often look for centers that have excellent patient outcomes, accessible appointments, and offer patient support throughout the transplant journey. 

What happens during the heart transplant evaluation process?

A team of specialists tailored to each patient’s individual case reviews your medical history, conducts diagnostic tests and evaluates your risk and candidacy for transplant. Your team consists of:

  • Cardiologists
  • Surgeons
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Nutritionists
  • Other care staff
What are the criteria for heart transplant evaluation eligibility at Temple? Is this different than other centers?

UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), the organization that oversees all transplant programs in the country, provides transplant centers with precise listing criteria that all patients must meet in order to be listed at a specific level of urgency for transplant regardless of institution. However, each program decides which criteria they would like to use for risk assessing a patient to be accepted for listing at that specific institution. Some programs are extremely conservative and have a strict cutoff for age, medical history and social support that will make a patient too high risk for that program.

At Temple, we evaluate every patient case by case. We're experienced with transplanting and managing higher-risk patients and achieving great outcomes. The expanded criteria allows us to evaluate more patients who were turned down due to being considered too high risk by other centers, and to offer them a second chance.

A transplant evaluation may be an option at Temple if you have:

  • Advanced heart failure with conditions and symptoms that haven't improved with lifestyle changes, or optimized medications, biventricular pacing, and management of the underlying cause of heart failure.
  • Are 74 years old and younger
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) up to 35
  • Are not dependent on alcohol or marijuana
  • Have an elevated panel-reactive antibody (PRA)
  • Have a history of mantle field radiation — most commonly applied radiation treatment from the early 1970s to the late 1980s
  • Have had cancer in the last 5 years
  • Are Jehovah's Witness or have objections to receiving blood transfusions
  • Are HIV-positive
  • Have pulmonary hypertension
  • Have had multiple sternotomies — an incision made through the flat bone in the middle of the chest during open-heart surgery
Am I too old for a heart transplant?

Age is just one factor our transplant team considers to determine if you're a candidate for a heart transplant. At Temple, we consider people up to age 74. Most centers use age 70 as the cutoff.

I was turned down at another center for a heart transplant. Will Temple evaluate me for a heart transplant?

Yes, even if another center has turned you down as a heart transplant candidate, our Temple team will consider you for a heart transplant. We evaluate every candidate on a case-by-case basis and make decisions based on your unique medical condition and personal history.

We also have expanded criteria that allows us to accept patients other transplant centers turn down.

Heart Transplant Waiting List

How long will I need to wait for a heart after being listed?

The wait for a donor heart varies. It can be as short as a day, or it may take a year or more due to a shortage of donors. Based on the latest statistics, 78.9% of Temple patients received a heart transplant within a year, a shorter wait than the national average of 64.4%.

Learn more about getting on the heart transplant waiting list >

How will I be notified when a heart becomes available?

Your Temple transplant coordinator will call you when a donor heart is available. That's why you'll need to answer your phone at all times of the day. You'll have a window of time to get to the hospital. You should also plan to remain in close contact with your transplant team and keep them updated on any travel plans or changes in your health.

What kind of support is offered for patients going through transplant?

Your Temple transplant team is with you every step of the way. Your transplant coordinator will guide you and your family through the process, coordinating appointment scheduling, testing and paperwork. You'll get answers to all your questions and support when you have concerns.

The Temple Heart & Vascular Institute also offers a free Heart Failure Support Group. It's where you and family members can learn about ways to cope with the disease, learn from others' experiences and find comfort in knowing you're not alone.

At Temple, our focus is on you and your family, and making your transplant journey as smooth as possible.

What to Expect with Heart Transplant Surgery

How long is the hospital stay after the heart transplant?

It's different for every patient, but the typical hospital stay after transplant is 2 weeks.

What accommodations are available for my family during my heart transplant?

To minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure, your loved ones and friends are not allowed in the waiting area during your heart transplant. They may wait in our cell phone lot, located on the 2nd floor of the Ontario Garage.

The procedural team will call with updates when you arrive in the department — during the transplant and when the surgery is completed.

Will I have pain after my heart transplant?

You'll likely have pain due to the incision in your chest, especially when you cough. You'll receive medication to help control the pain.

Heart Transplant Recovery and Follow-Up Care

How long does it take to recover after a heart transplant?

Typically, it takes 3 months to fully recover. Everyone's recovery is different. Age, other medical issues and overall health may make recovery take longer.

What medications will I take after the transplant?

You'll take powerful anti-rejection medications (immunosuppressants) for the rest of your life. These drugs suppress your immune system, so your donor heart isn't damaged. Because your body's immunity is lower, you'll need to take medication to help your body fight infection. It's important you follow your medication regimen to avoid rejection.

When can I drive after a heart transplant?

You can drive again once the incision in your chest has healed — your team will decide on the appropriate time based on your condition.

When can I return to work after a heart transplant?

The timeframe for returning to work can vary based on the individual and the type of work, but most people can after about three to six months if there are no safety concerns.

Will my insurance pay for the transplant and follow-up care?

Insurance coverage is different for everyone. Our financial counselor will verify your coverage and get authorization for the transplant and follow-up care. They will notify you of any out of pocket expenses ahead of time.