Getting Evaluated for a Heart Transplant
A heart transplant is a life-saving option for some people with advanced heart failure. University of Utah Health provides a comprehensive evaluation to decide whether a person is a good candidate for a heart transplant or would benefit more from another type of therapy. The evaluation includes extensive testing, procedures, and multiple appointments with specialists.
Our heart transplant evaluation is available on an outpatient basis and to patients hospitalized due to illness. Our heart transplant team will carefully plan your evaluation schedule so that you have all the tests and appointments you need. They will collect your medical records, including previous test results, in advance.
This evaluation may take a week or more. If you do not live near Salt Lake City, you may want to consider staying nearby while you participate in the evaluation. We offer off-campus housing at reasonable rates, and our team can recommend other options as well.
For the first six to eight weeks after your transplant, you must have a family member or friend with you around the clock. We ask that this person—your caregiver—attend all of your pre-transplant appointments, including the evaluation appointments. This will help the caregiver know what to expect.
Would You Like More Information?
We are always happy to answer questions or help you understand more about the referral process. 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 will also request medical records from your cardiologist to help plan your visit.
Toll-free: 1-800-824-2073 Ext. 53693
Email: Heart Transplant Team
Heart Transplant Evaluation: Tests & Procedures
The pre-transplant tests and procedures will give a picture of your overall health status and help determine if a heart transplant is right for you.
The evaluation includes:
- Blood tests—These will check your blood type, function of other organs (liver, kidneys), electrolyte levels, blood sugar level, the presence of specific viruses, and other concerns.
- Catheterization—This procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into the neck or groin and injecting dye into the arteries of the heart. It can:
- find blood vessels that are narrowed or blocked that could lead to chest pain. (This is called an angiogram.)
- measure the pressure and oxygen levels in different parts of your heart. (This is called a hemodynamic assessment.)
- check how the right and left sides of the heart pump. (This is called a ventriculogram.)
- take a sample of tissue from your heart. (This is called a biopsy.)
- pinpoint heart defects present from birth (congenital heart defects).
- look for problems with your heart valves.
- Echocardiogram—This test uses sound waves to create live images of your heart as it beats and pumps blood.
- Stress echocardiogram—This test helps us assess your heart function while you exercise.
- v02 test—This test will measure your body's ability to use oxygen during exercise.
- Chest X-ray—This test is a simple, non-invasive way of evaluating the lungs, heart, and chest cavity for diseases, like cancer and infection.
- Pulmonary function test—A pulmonary function test measures the amount of air you breathe in and out.
- Abdominal ultrasound and carotid ultrasound—These tests assess blood flow through your vascular system and organs.
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI) test—The ABI tests how well your blood is flowing through your arms and legs.
This evaluation may include other tests, depending on your situation.
Find a Heart Transplant Physician
Meeting Our Team
During the evaluation, you will meet many members of the heart transplant team, including:
- transplant cardiologists,
- transplant surgeons,
- registered nurses,
- dietitians, and
- social workers.
You will learn what it’s like to be on the transplant list, the physical risks associated with having a heart transplant, financial considerations, and other concerns. This is an excellent time to ask any questions you have about the process.
You will be assigned a transplant coordinator, a nurse who will be available to support and assist you around the clock with any transplant-related concerns that you have.
We may schedule appointments for you to meet specialists who work in other areas of the medical center. For example, if you have diabetes, you may meet with an endocrinologist. If you have lung issues, you may see a pulmonologist. These specialists can provide information that helps the team decide if a heart transplant is right for you.
Emotional & Financial Considerations
During the evaluation, our social worker will talk with you about the emotional and psychological challenges involved with having a heart transplant. Our goal is to make sure you will have the support you need from others if you are placed on the waiting list.
Our financial coordinator will also ask your health insurance provider to authorize a heart transplant for you in the event you are placed on the waiting list. The insurer will need to review your records and confirm that you meet the criteria for transplantation.
When you have completed all the required testing and clinical appointments and we have received the results, our transplant team will present your case at our selection meeting. During this meeting, the team will review your results, discuss your unique case, and determine the most appropriate treatment pathway for you.
After the team reaches a decision, you will meet with one of the transplant cardiologists and a transplant coordinator to discuss the next steps.
Possible next steps include:
- putting you on the UNOS wait list for a heart transplant,
- implanting a ventricular assist device (VAD), and/or
- continuing to manage your heart failure with medication and other non-surgical therapies.
Heart Transplant Waiting List
People are placed on the heart transplant waiting list if:
- the selection committee agrees that a transplant is the best course of action,
- the patient's insurance company and the hospital's financial department have provided authorization,
- the care team has considered or attempted all other possible medical therapies,
- the patient has completed the required testing for the evaluation, and
- the patient has met with all members of the team.
If you are accepted as a transplant candidate, your name will be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list at U of U Health. This network manages the nation's organ transplant system under contract with the federal government.
UNOS works to:
- help match organs (from donors) with those who need them (recipients).
- collect, manage, and report data about results (outcomes). More information about outcomes can be found at the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.
- increase awareness about organ donation.
The transplant team will assign you an urgency status based on specific medical criteria that estimates how urgently you need a transplant. Your urgency status may go up or down based on changes in your overall health or the treatment you are receiving.
Waiting for Your New Heart
Once you are on the waiting list, your medical team will continue to monitor your condition and make adjustments to your treatment plan as necessary.
Each week, our heart transplant team meets to discuss patients who are on the waiting list and how to best care for their needs. We will make sure patients are as healthy as possible while waiting for a donor heart.
It is important that your transplant center has the most current information and test results. Patients on the wait list will need frequent follow-up appointments with the transplant team. You may continue seeing your local cardiologist during this time. However, you may need to return to U of U Health for certain tests. You also may transition all of your care to U of U Health in Salt Lake City.
U of U Health cardiologists also offer appointments at outreach clinics in:
- Billings, Montana;
- Boise, Idaho; and
- Grand Junction, Colorado.
Mechanical Circulatory Support
If your heart function continues to decline while you wait for a donor heart, our care team may recommend a mechanical circulatory support (MCS) device. These devices provide short- or long-term cardiac support by taking over the pumping function for one or both of the heart's ventricles. This can buy time for people who are waiting for a transplant.
Heart Transplant Waiting 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 before you leave your house as far as what medications you should take (or not take) at this time. Be sure a family member or friend drives you to the hospital for your surgery.
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.
Toll-free: 1-800-824-2073 Ext. 53693
Email: Heart Transplant Team