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Treating Heart Failure with Transplant Surgeries

The heart transplant program at University of Utah Health has a long tradition of excellence. Choosing which heart transplant team to entrust with your care is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Our experienced team provides exceptional care for patients in the Mountain West region—from evaluation through transplant surgery and recovery.

Our Heart Transplant Program has some of the best outcomes in the nation and consistently exceeds national standards in waitlist time and patient and organ survival. The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) maintains these statistics for all transplant centers in the United States.

U.T.A.H. Cardiac Transplant Program

University of Utah Health Heart Transplant is a founding member of the Utah Transplant Affiliated Hospitals (U.T.A.H.) Cardiac Transplant Program, a cooperative effort of four major Salt Lake City area hospitals.  Members of the U.T.A.H. Cardiac Transplant Program include:

  • University of Utah Health
  • The George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
  • Intermountain Medical Center
  • Primary Children’s Hospital

Since 1985, the U.T.A.H. Cardiac Transplant Program has performed a combined total of over 1,500 heart transplants. This collaboration has provided our transplant center with a unique opportunity to utilize the skill, expertise, and resources of all four medical teams and transplant programs for the benefit of all patients.

This collaboration is one of the most successful of its kind in the United States. Our patients benefit from this unique model, which utilizes the skill, expertise, and resources of all four medical teams. Since 1985, we have performed a combined total of more than 1,500 heart transplants.

What Is a Heart Transplant?

A heart transplant is an operation in which the transplant surgeon replaces a diseased, failing heart with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. 

Many diseases can lead to heart failure, including:

Heart Transplant Criteria

People who qualify for a heart transplant have advanced heart failure that is not responding to therapy. Specifically, they may:

  • be on mechanical circulatory support, such as a total artificial heart or left ventricular assist device;
  • need medication that forces the heart to contract and require invasive monitoring of the heart;
  • have symptoms demonstrating that their heart function is significantly limited, suggesting a poor prognosis in the next 12 months;
  • have low ejection fraction (a measure that compares amount of the blood in the heart to the amount of blood pumped out); or
  • have treatment-resistant ischemia (poor blood supply to the heart muscle).

It is possible to have any of the conditions listed above and not be eligible for a heart transplant due to other factors.

The heart transplant evaluation helps our team assess your overall health and situation to make sure a transplant is right for you. We offer heart transplant evaluations on an outpatient and inpatient basis. This evaluation can take a week or more. 

Interested in Learning More?

We would be happy to answer any questions you have about our heart transplant program. Please call us, email, or fax:

Phone: 801-585-5122
Toll-free: 1-800-824-2073 Ext. 53693
Fax: 801-213-3956
Email: Heart Transplant Team

Heart Transplant Wait Time

It is difficult to predict how long you will have to wait for a donor heart. The wait will depend on many deciding factors such as:

  • your blood type,
  • the severity of your illness,
  • your body size, and
  • the number of donors available.

If you have questions regarding your waiting time once you are listed, please talk to your transplant coordinator.

While you wait for your transplant, you will need to be available by phone at all times. If you are at home (not hospitalized) when a donor heart becomes available for you, a nurse coordinator will notify you right away.

You will need to arrive at U of U Hospital for the surgery within hours of receiving the call. The transplant coordinator will give you instructions on the admission process (checking in to the hospital) and your medications.

Be sure a family member or friend drives you to the hospital for your surgery.

Find a Heart Transplant Physician

Heart Transplant Cost

In addition to the medical expenses related to the surgery, patients and their families need to consider costs associated with transportation, lodging, food, and follow-up care. Our transplant financial coordinators and social workers are available to answer your questions and address your concerns related to the expenses of transplantation.

Heart Transplant Surgery

Heart transplant surgery is a complex open-heart procedure that is done in the operating room (OR). This surgery usually takes several hours, depending on the patient's medical history and condition.

When you receive a heart transplant, you will be placed under general anesthesia and will be asleep throughout the entire surgery. The heart surgeon will use a heart-lung bypass machine to help keep blood flowing through your body during the surgery.

After removing the diseased heart, the transplant surgeon will then place the healthy donor heart into the chest and attach the major blood vessels. Blood will then start pumping through the new heart and it will begin beating on its own. This typically occurs naturally, but in some situations a small electric shock may be needed to help the donor heart beat properly.

Heart Transplant Recovery

After surgery, you will spend about one week in the intensive care unit (ICU) at U of U Hospital. Doctors and nurses will check on you frequently and run tests to monitor your progress. You will:

  • be on a ventilator to help you breathe,
  • have tubes in your chest that will drain fluids from around your lungs and heart,
  • be given medication for pain relief, and
  • begin taking your medications (called immunosuppressants) to prevent your body from rejecting your new heart.

Most patients are taken off the ventilator the day after surgery and can sit up and walk around. Physical therapists and occupational therapists will work with you to help maintain your strength and mobility.

You will then be transferred to a step-down unit, where the care team will continue to monitor you closely. Most patients are discharged from the hospital within two to four weeks of the surgery. You may go to a rehabilitation facility or home, depending on your needs.

During your hospital stay, you will also receive a post-transplant manual—this is your lifelong guide to caring for your new heart. The transplant coordinator will come to your room to review the information in the manual and answer your questions. You will learn about your medications, how to prevent infection, and what follow-up care will be like.

You will need to be prepared to stay in the Salt Lake City area for three to six months after transplant depending on your condition. 

Heart Transplant Complications

The care team will watch you closely for complications and risks that may occur after a heart transplant, such as:

  • rejection of the donor heart,
  • primary graft failure (when the new heart does not function well following surgery),
  • problems with your arteries,
  • medication side effects,
  • cancer (immunosuppressant drugs can increase your risk of getting certain cancers), and
  • infection.

How Long Does a Heart Transplant Last?

Most donor hearts last between 12 and 14 years. If your donated heart fails, the transplant team will talk to you about the possibility of being evaluated for another heart transplant.

Life After Transplant

You will need to stay in the Salt Lake City area for three to six months after your surgery so that the transplant team can monitor you closely and adjust your medication doses as needed. You will return to our transplant clinic for frequent follow-up visits, biopsies of your heart, blood draws, and imaging tests.

After six months, your follow-up visits will become less frequent. When you return home, it is important to resume routine care with your local provider and cardiologist. The U of U Health transplant team will continue to manage your immunosuppression therapy and any transplant-related care. We will continue to follow your lab test results and see you in our clinic.

Most people who have a heart transplant experience a better quality of life. Your doctor and transplant coordinator will talk to you about when it is safe to resume your normal activities, such as work, exercise, and participating in hobbies.

How to Schedule a Heart Transplant Evaluation

To make an appointment for a heart transplant evaluation at U of U Health, call 801-585-5122 or 800-824-2073. Before scheduling your appointment, we will check your insurance coverage to make sure the cost of the evaluation is covered.

Our team also will request medical records from your cardiologist to help plan your visit.

Contact Us

Phone: 801-585-5122
Toll-free: 1-800-824-2073 Ext. 53693
Fax: 801-213-3956
Email: Heart Transplant Team

Health Insurance

Health insurance coverage, contracts, and payment may be subject to changes beyond the control of University of Utah Health. The University of Utah Transplant Department will contact your insurance and verify that your insurance is contracted with our facility and providers.

If your insurance is not contracted, we will attempt a single-case-agreement for transplant services to be performed at the University of Utah. Ultimately the patient is responsible for payment related to all services.

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