PATIENTS who qualify to have a heart transplant are put in a waiting list. Meanwhile, the patient gets instructions from the transplant team to stay within two hours of the Transplant Center at all times and must be reachable easily by cell phone, landline or a beeper.
While you are waiting, the team will carefully monitor your health. You have to attend routine appointments, follow doctors’ instructions as to diet, exercise and physical activity - what's allowed and what's contraindicated, and most important, take prescribed medications. Diet is low in fat6 and sodium. Alcohol is absolutely prohibited, as well as nicotine containing substances like cigarettes.
Some heart patients may need extra help to stay alive until a suitable donor organ becomes available. A cardiac-assist device may be needed, which is a battery operated mechanical pump that is surgically implanted, which helps the patient's heart pump if his heart cannot work on its own. Most patients with a cardiac assist device can be discharged from the hospital while waiting for a donor heart.
A suitable donor heart comes from a person who has been declared brain-dead by a doctor, but whose heart still works well. To reduce the shortage of organ donors, it is imperative for willing would-be donors to sign an organ donor card. It is also important that loved ones should always know their family members' wishes regarding organ donation. All donors are tested to be sure that no dangerous viruses or microbes are present. This includes the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.
The first thing the transplant team does is to find out if the donor organ is suitable for transplant, then ask the donor's relatives for permission to donate. Donor hearts are given to patients based on donor's blood type, body weight, the recipient's blood type, weight, severity of illness and other important details.
Once a donor heart becomes available, you will be notified and admitted to a hospital. Surgical teams from the transplant center will travel to the hospital where the donor is located to remove the heart. The heart is then kept in a special solution and at a proper temperature to preserve and protect it, and will be brought to the hospital where the waiting patient is, as soon as possible.
Next Week: Surgery of Heart Transplants