Heart Transplant Surgery

A heart transplant is an operation reserved for patients with end-stage heart failure who aren’t responding to other treatments, such as medications and previous surgeries. While heart transplant surgery is a major operation, chances of a full recovery are optimal with the appropriate follow-up care. 

We understand that the idea of undergoing a heart transplant is daunting. Our heart transplant team at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute guides you through every step of the process. Our Heart Transplant Program consistently exceeds expected Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR+) outcomes for patient and graft survival at one year and three years.

Heart transplants at AHN hospitals: Why choose us?

With compassion and expertise, we’re proud to offer you:

Strong survival rates

Based on The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) data, our three-year patient heart transplant survival rates are the best in western Pennsylvania. Our transplant team works with you to ensure that you have the resources you need throughout the transplant process.

Support for weakening hearts

Our transplant specialists are innovative users of mechanical circulatory support, including ventricular assist devices (VADs). These devices can support your heart’s circulation while you wait for a donor heart.

Customized medication plans

We base your immunosuppressant (anti-rejection) therapy on personal factors, including age, gender, race, and health status. By tailoring treatment to your unique needs, you have less chance of infection and organ rejection.

Dedicated care

A personal transplant coordinator works one-on-one with you. This specialist guides you through the transplant process and is readily available to answer your transplant questions.

Research advancements

As an AHN patient, you may benefit from clinical trials of new anti-rejection medications and other therapies. The AHN Cardiovascular Research Institute spearheads these groundbreaking initiatives.

Multiple-organ transplants

Our transplant surgeons are exceptionally skilled at performing multiple-organ transplants, such as a simultaneous heart and kidney transplant.

Complete heart failure care

You benefit from a comprehensive suite of heart failure treatments, including cardiovascular rehabilitation, to strengthen your heart. Learn more about heart failure and its treatments.

Team approach

Our multidisciplinary team approach includes physicians, surgeons, transplant nurse coordinators, dietitians, social workers, pharmacists, and other specialists. They work together to provide you with the best possible outcome.

How does a heart transplant procedure work?

Heart transplant surgery is an open-heart procedure done under general anesthesia that takes several hours, depending on your condition. A heart transplant surgeon will connect you to a heart-lung bypass machine and make an incision in your chest to perform the procedure. The surgeon will then remove your heart and replace it with a healthy one from a donor.

After the surgery, you will be kept on a ventilator to help you breathe for some time, depending on your condition. Most patients will remain in the hospital for two weeks or more after a heart transplant. Following the surgery, you’ll either be discharged to go home or be placed in a physical rehabilitation unit until you are strong enough to go home.

What is a heart transplant success rate

Life expectancy after a heart transplant will depend on a patient’s condition and age. Nationally, the average survival rate for heart transplant patients one year after surgery is 85% to 90%. The three-year post-operative survival rate is around 75%. We follow many patients who are now beyond 20 years since their heart transplant surgery.

Nearly 3,500 heart transplant surgeries are performed in the United States each year. Data and statistics for each state can be found on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) website.

Life expectancy without a heart transplant

Life expectancy for patients diagnosed with end-stage heart failure will depend on the severity of the condition.

Life after a heart transplant

Once your heart transplant surgery is complete, you’ll have to visit the hospital once a week for the first four weeks for biopsies to look for signs of inflammation or rejection. If recovery is going to plan, you’ll have the following schedule the first year after your surgery:

  • Month 2: Tests and follow-up appointments every other week.
  • Months 3-6: Tests and follow-up appointment once a month.
  • Months 7-12: Tests and follow-up appointments every other month.

Life after a heart transplant will be challenging and require a strong commitment on the patient’s part. Medications must be taken regularly, and strict lifestyle guidelines should be followed to ensure quality of life.

"Treatments for end stage heart failure require a big commitment from the patient, family and treatment team."

Stephen Bailey, MD — System Chair, Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery

Pre-transplant heart support at AHN

Depending on your condition, it can take months to years to receive a heart transplant. During this time, you may need mechanical circulatory support in the form of an LVAD to support your weakened heart.

Depending on your health condition and personal preferences, your options include:

Bridge to transplant

Durable VADs, or temporary mechanical circulatory support systems such as intra-aortic balloon pump, Impella®, TandemHeart®, or ECMO help your weakened heart pump blood. These devices provide support until a donor heart is available.

Destination therapy

This long-term treatment is a good option if you don’t want a heart transplant or you have health complications that make a transplant too risky. Your doctor surgically implants a VAD to help your heart pump blood. Many patients with VADs live five years or longer.

Find more information on heart transplant recipients including data, outcomes, and more on the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN cardiovascular services.

Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, srtr.org.

Impella® is a registered trademark of ABIOMED and used with permission.

TandemHeart® is a registered trademark of CardiacAssist, Inc., and used with permission.