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Heart transplantation

  Heart transplantation or cardiac transplantation, is a surgical transplant procedure performed on patients with end-stage heart failure or severe coronary artery disease. The most common procedure is to take a working heart from a recently deceased organ donor (allograft) and implant it into the patient. The patient's own heart may either be removed (orthotopic procedure) or, less commonly, left in to support the donor heart (heterotopic procedure). It is also possible to take a heart from another species (xenograft), or implant a man-made artificial one, although the outcome of these two procedures has been less successful in comparison to the far more commonly performed allografts.



The first heart transplanted into a human occurred in 1964 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi when a team led by Dr. James Hardy transplanted a chimpanzee heart into a dying patient. The heart beat 90 minutes before stopping. Dr. James Hardy had performed the first human lung transplant the previous year. [1] The first human to human heart transplant was performed by Professor Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967. The patient was a Louis Washkansky of Cape Town, South Africa, who lived for 18 days after the procedure before dying of pneumonia. The donor was Denise Darvall, who was rendered brain dead in a car accident. The first successful United States heart transplant was done at St. Lukes hospital in Houston Texas by Denton Cooley, M. D. in June 1968. The donor was a teenage suicide victim (who had had an aortic coarctation repaired as a young child, also by Dr. Cooley) and the recipient, Mr. Thomas, had terminal severe cardiomyopathy. He survived 8 months before dying of rejection of the transplanted heart. A series of five subsequent heart transplants was done that month by Dr. Cooley followed by a number of transplants in Houston that year before the program was canceled leaving only Norman Shumway at Stanford University at San Francisco doing heart transplants and research on the rejection phenomenon.


In order for a patient to be recommended for a heart transplant they will generally have advanced, irreversible heart failure with a severely limited life expectancy. Other possible treatments, including medication, for their condition should have been considered or attempted prior to recommendation. Generally, the following causes of heart failure can be treated with a heart transplant:


Some patients are less suitable for a heart transplant, especially if they suffer from other circulatory conditions unrelated to the heart. The following conditions in a patient would increase the chances of complications occurring during the operation:

  • Kidney, lung, or liver disease
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes with other organ dysfunction
  • Life-threatening diseases unrelated to heart failure
  • Vascular disease of the neck and leg arteries.



A typical heart transplantation begins with a suitable donor heart being located from a recently deceased or brain dead donor. The transplant patient is contacted by a nurse coordinator and instructed to attend the hospital in order to be evaluated for the operation and given pre-surgical medication. At the same time, the heart is removed from the donor and inspected by a team of surgeons to see if it is in a suitable condition to be transplanted. Occasionally it will be deemed unsuitable. This can often be a very distressing experience for an already emotionally unstable patient, and they will usually require emotional support before being sent home.


Once the donor heart has passed its inspection, the patient is taken into the operating theatre and given a general anesthetic. Either an orthotopic or a heterotopic procedure is followed, depending on the condition of the patient and the donor heart.

Orthotopic procedure

The orthotopic procedure begins with the surgeons performing a median sternotomy to expose the mediastinum. The pericardium is opened, the great vessels are dissected and patient is attached to cardiopulmonary bypass. The failing heart is removed by transecting the great vessels and a portion of the left atrium. The pulmonary veins are not transected; rather a circular portion of the left atrium containing the pulmonary veins is left in place. The donor heart is trimmed to fit onto the patients remaining left atrium and great vessels and sutured in place. The new heart is restarted, the patient is weaned from cardiopulmonary bypass and the chest cavity is closed.

Heterotopic procedure

In the heterotopic procedure, the patient's own heart is not removed before implanting the donor heart. The new heart is positioned so that the chambers and blood vessels of both hearts can be connected to form what is effectively a 'double heart'. The procedure can give the patients original heart a chance to recover, and if the donor's heart happens to fail (eg. through rejection), it may be removed, allowing the patients original heart to start working again. Heterotopic procedures are only used in cases where the donor heart is not strong enough to function by itself (due to either the patients body being considerably larger than the donor's, the donor having a weak heart, or the patient suffering from pulmonary hypertension).


The patient is taken into ICU to recover. When they wake up, they will be transferred to a special recovery unit in order to be rehabilitated. How long they remain in hospital post-transplant depends on the patient's general health, how well the new heart is working, and their ability to look after their new heart. Once the patient is released, they will have to return to the hospital for regular check-ups and rehabilitation sessions. They may also require emotional support. The number of visits to the hospital will decrease over time, as the patient adjusts to their transplant. The patient will have to remain on lifetime immunosuppressant medication to avoid the possibility of rejection. Since the vagus nerve is severed during the operation, the new heart will beat at around 100 bpm until nerve regrowth occurs.

'Living organ' transplant

Doctors made medical history in February 2006, at Bad Oeynhausen Clinic for Thorax- and Cardiovascular Surgery, Germany, when they successfully transplanted a 'beating heart' into a patient.[2] Normally a donor's heart is injected with potassium chloride in order to stop it beating, before being removed from the donor's body and packed in ice in order to preserve it. The ice can usually keep the heart fresh for a maximum of four to six hours, depending on its condition to start with. Rather than cooling the heart, this new procedure involves keeping it at body temperature and hooking it up to a special machine called an Organ Care System that allows it to continue beating with warm, oxygenated blood flowing through it. This can maintain the heart in a suitable condition for much longer than the traditional method.


The prognosis for heart transplant patients following the orthotopic procedure has greatly increased over the past 20 years, and as of Aug. 11, 2006, the survival rates were as follows.[3]

  • 1 year: 86.1% (males), 83.9% (females)
  • 3 years: 78.3% (males), 74.9% (females)
  • 5 years: 71.2% (males), 66.9% (females)

As of 2006, Tony Huesman is the world's longest living heart transplant patient, having survived for 28 years with a transplanted heart. Huesman received a heart in 1978 at the age of 20 after viral pneumonia severely weakened his heart. The operation was performed at Stanford University under American heart transplant pioneer Dr. Norman Shumway, who continued to perform the operation in the U.S. after others abandoned it due to poor results.[4]. Another noted heart transplant recipient, Kelly Perkins, climbs mountains around the world to promote positive awareness of organ donation. Perkins has successfully climed to the peaks of Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Matterhorn, El Capitan, and most recently in 2007, Cajon de Arenales in Aregntina, 12 years after her heart transplant surgery.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Bad Oeynhausen Clinic for Thorax- and Cardiovascular Surgery Announces First Successful Beating Human Heart Transplant", TransMedics, 23 February 2006. Retrieved on 2007-05-14. 
  3. ^ Heart Transplants: Statistics The American Heart Association. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  4. ^ Heart Transplant Patient OK After 28 Yrs (September 14, 2006) CBS News. Retrieved December 29, 2006.
  • Western Cape government, South Africa (21 February 2005). Chris Barnard Performs World's First Heart Transplant. Cape Gateway. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.
  • Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. Patient's Guide to Heart Transplant Surgery. University of Southern California. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.
  • Nancy Reid (September 22, 2005). Heart transplant: How is it performed?. Healthwise. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.
  • Jeffrey Everett (10/29/2003). Heart Transplant: Indications. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.
  • Hartford Hospital Heart Transplant Program. Hartford Hospital, Connecticut, United States. Retrieved on 2007-01-10.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Heart_transplantation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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