How To Prepare For A Heart Transplant Surgery?

An Overview Of Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart transplant surgery refers to a surgical procedure for treating chronic heart diseases; it is usually resorted to by doctors when the patient is at the end-stage of heart failure. So, heart transplant surgery is a last resort when lifestyle and dietary changes, medicines, and less-invasive procedures have all failed to yield results. But, at the same time, this surgery is not for everyone and there are certain criteria that the patient must satisfy to be considered for this procedure.

In heart transplant surgery, the failing or damaged heart is replaced with a healthy donor heart. It is a major surgical procedure but the chances of survival are excellent when you stick to a follow-up care routine.

Ways To Prepare For A Transplant

  • The surgery is long and may last for almost four hours during which your body is kept on a heart-lung machine to keep the blood circulation normal. The surgeon, during this time, replaces the failing heart with the donor’s heart.
  • So, when you have been advised to get a heart transplant, you need to visit a reputed heart transplant center for check-up. You may choose a center depending on whether it is covered by your medical insurance provider. You should check for the success rate of the center and ensure that it offers all the services you may need, like helping you with travel arrangements, coordinating with support groups, assisting you in finding an accommodation in that locality for your recovery stay, and helping you contact organizations that can look after these issues.
  • When you find a center, it will assess whether you fit the necessary criteria for heart transplant surgery. This assessment verifies whether your condition will actually improve post-transplant, whether less-aggressive treatments can be tried out, and whether you are healthy enough to withstand the surgery and the follow-up treatments.
  • When the transplant clinic approves of your condition and finds you a suitable candidate, you are placed on the waiting list. This is likely to be a long wait as there might not be enough donor hearts available.
  • Transplants are done within four hours after the healthy heart has been removed from a donor. This is why a healthy heart is typically offered to a transplant center close to it first.
  • On arrival at the hospital, you will be checked again to make sure you can undergo the surgery.

Risk Factors of Heart Transplant

The regular risks of any open-heart surgery involve blood clots and infections, but there are some more serious risks in heart transplant surgery.

  • The donor heart might be rejected as your body may assume it as a foreign object. The doctors try to prevent this by giving immunosuppressants. This brings down the likelihood of rejection and may stop it midway if the body starts to reject it. Rejection may not be accompanied by any symptoms. This is why you need regular biopsies in the first year.
  • Primary graft failure is another major risk following a transplant. Here, the heart fails to function and the individual might die within the first months.
  • Post-transplant, the artery walls may become thicker and hard and this may result in cardiac allograft vasculopathy. This hampers normal blood circulation and may trigger a heart attack or heart failure.
  • Side-effects of medicines can lead to kidney damage since you must continue to take these immunosuppressants lifelong.
  • Immunosuppressants will thwart your body’s power to fight infections.
  • Immunosuppressants are also known to cause cancers, particularly lip and skin tumors and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Life After A Heart Transplant

Once the surgery is done, you will be shifted to the ICU for continuous monitoring and medications. After a couple of days, you can be shifted to a regular room at the hospital where you will continue staying for the next 3 weeks. Anti-rejection medicines will be given continuously so that your body does not reject the donor’s heart. Even when you leave the hospital, the transplant team will keep monitoring you at the outpatient transplant center. This is why you should be close to the transplant center for the first few months. You will continue to take immunosuppressants and to make sure these do not make you more prone to infections; you will be given antiviral and antibacterial medicines. When risks of rejection go down with time, the doses of these immunosuppressants can be reduced.

You have to be prepared to manage your medications and treatments throughout your life. This means following your doctor’s instructions and a lifelong care plan. You need to stay away from tobacco products, do regular exercises and eat healthily. You must have a daily schedule for taking medicines to make sure you do not miss them. You need to have your medication list with you at all times in case there is an emergency. You can join support groups to ease fears when you feel anxious about rejection risks. You must understand that life post-transplant will not be what it was earlier; so you should set realistic goals.

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