Heart Transplant

Exceptional Outcomes for Heart Transplant Patients since 1984

Loyola Medicine offers the highest level of integrated, multidisciplinary care for advanced heart disease patients who may be considering a heart transplant. Loyola is known for taking on the most challenging cases and providing follow-up care for hundreds of heart transplant patients. If you’ve been turned down by another transplant center, consider getting a second opinion at Loyola.

A heart transplant, also called cardiac transplant or heart transplantation, is surgery to remove a damaged or diseased heart and replace it with a healthy donor heart. Preparation for a heart transplant is an extensive process and includes a detailed evaluation, a search for a donor heart, the transplant surgery and a recovery period. 

Heart transplant surgery may be a life-saving treatment for individuals with end-stage and advanced heart failure. It is an extensive surgery most often used when other medications and surgical procedures do not work to treat your condition.

At Loyola, you will have an entire team on your side, including your cardiologist, transplant surgeon, LVAD specialists, nurse coordinators, procurement coordinators, infectious disease specialists, nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists, transplant chaplains, physical therapists, dietitians, financial coordinators, clinical pharmacists, social workers and psychologists. We have one goal: restoring you to better health.

Why Choose Loyola for Heart Transplants?

Loyola has the most experienced heart transplant program in the state of Illinois and has performed more than 750 heart transplants since the program was started in 1984. Loyola’s cardiology and heart surgery program is ranked 29th in the country by U.S. News & World Report and is the only program in Chicago that has been ranked for 12 years in a row. Loyola’s one-year patient survival rate exceeds other Chicago programs. Our one-month and one-year patient survival rates exceed the national average, as do our one-month, one-year and three-year graft survival rates. 

A successful heart transplant starts the moment you walk in the door. We are thorough in our testing, complete in our patient education and leave no question unanswered. Loyola’s doctors, nurse coordinators and nutritionists will ensure that you are in the best possible state of health before transplant surgery and prepared for the next chapter in your life.

Loyola’s heart transplant program provides a full range of services for patients of all ages with advanced heart disease. While you wait for a heart, you may face other health challenges related to your condition. Loyola’s subspecialists provide expertise in a wide range of health conditions, and your transplant team will facilitate a referral to an appropriate specialist if needed. 

Our board-certified transplant surgeons are widely regarded and highly skilled, and our infectious disease team ensures that the transferred tissue is healthy. As part of an academic medical center, Loyola’s doctors perform and teach the latest surgical techniques and medical practices. Our transplant team is often consulted by doctors at other hospitals because of their expertise and experience. We would welcome offering you a second opinion.

What are the Different Types of Heart Transplants?

Heart transplant patients can benefit from two kinds of transplants:

  • Heart transplant — This surgery removes a diseased or damaged heart and replaces it with a donated heart that is a close match to the transplant patient’s tissue type.
     
  • Heart-lung transplant — In this procedure, the diseased or damaged heart and lungs are removed and replaced with a donated heart and pair of lungs. This is often the recommended therapy for people with severe pulmonary hypertension.

Heart and heart-lung transplants depend on the availability of suitable organs. Your Loyola surgeon may suggest the following treatments as an alternative to transplant or as a bridge to transplant surgery:

  • LVAD implantation — Loyola’s internationally recognized team of cardiothoracic surgeons specializes in using left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) to treat patients with heart failure or advanced heart failure. An LVAD is a small mechanical pump that is surgically implanted to assist with blood circulation. It helps the weak part of the heart by pulling blood from the lower chamber of the heart (left ventricle) and pushing it to the aorta, which carries the blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Loyola uses this approach as a bridge to heart transplant and also as destination therapy. Learn more about LVAD implantation.
     
  • Medical management ­— Your Loyola doctors may prescribe a medication change or increase in dose in order to properly manage your condition while waiting for a suitable organ match.
     
  • Mitral valve repair — For patients with a leaking or narrowed mitral valve, this procedure may be effective in preserving heart function and eliminating the need for anticoagulants. Learn more about surgical valve repair.
     
  • Myocardial revascularization — For patients with ischemic heart disease who are not good candidates for percutaneous coronary intervention or coronary artery bypass graft procedures, this procedure may reduce pain and eliminate the need for medication. 
     
  • Percutaneous VAD implantation — Loyola also offers the TandemHeart® percutaneous ventricular assist device (PVAD) for patients with advanced heart disease. This device is not implanted in the body, but rather connected to the circulatory system through tubes that are inserted into the groin arteries. PVAD relieves symptoms, restores heart function and has been successfully used as a bridge to heart transplant. Learn more about percutaneous VAD implantation.
     
  • Valve-sparing aortic root replacement — To repair abnormal enlargement of the blood vessel walls (aneurysm) within the ascending aorta, the aortic valve is connected to a new section of aortic tissue, preserving the native aortic valve. This procedure may eliminate the need for anticoagulants. Learn more about valve-sparing aortic root replacement.

What Diseases are Treated with Heart Transplant?

Loyola’s cardiologists and transplant surgeons are well-versed in every type of heart disease and failure. Your healthcare team will explore conservative treatments first and foremost. If your condition is not well controlled with other treatments, a heart transplant may be the best medical option. Some heart conditions that may require a heart transplant include:

Evaluation and Wait List for Heart Transplants

If your Loyola cardiologist recommends a heart transplant as the next step in your care, your healthcare team will confirm your diagnosis of end-stage heart failure or advanced heart failure and start your heart transplant evaluation. The evaluation has several steps and we will guide you through the process. Your cardiologist first will take a detailed personal and medical history before conducting a physical examination. Several tests will be ordered to assess the state of your health. We will be there with you every step of the way, informing you of your test results and next steps. 

The Medical Review Board will discuss your case and decide whether you are a good candidate for transplant or a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge therapy while you wait for a heart transplant. If you are given approval as a heart transplant candidate, you will be placed on the national waiting list with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Your wait time for a donor heart depends on many factors, including your medical urgency, compatibility to the donor and geography (organs are matched within the same region whenever possible). Your team will instruct you on all aspects of the transplant process, from evaluation to surgery and recovery.

To learn more, read about Loyola’s evaluation for heart transplant process and heart transplant frequently asked questions.

Ongoing Treatment and Recovery after Heart Transplant Surgery

Once you are on the waiting list for a heart transplant, your Loyola team will keep you up to date on all tests and treatments. We will also work with you on your exercise and nutritional plans so that you are ready for surgery once a suitable donor heart is available. Your care team will prepare you for the day that a donor match arrives.

Once a donor heart becomes available, your medical team will quickly make the arrangements for your surgery and hospital stay. Your nurse coordinator will inform you and your family about where to go. Time is of the essence, and you will be expected to leave for the hospital shortly after receiving the call that a donor heart is available.

There will be several last-minute tests after your arrival at the hospital. Your surgery will take six to 12 hours or more, and then you will start your recovery. You will be closely monitored after surgery, and your nurses will assess your pain and administer medication to make you comfortable. You will have a breathing tube and catheter as you recover from transplant surgery. You will be asked to start walking and try some deep breathing exercises to prevent pulmonary complications.

You will be prescribed immunosuppression medications to prevent transplant rejection. Within the first day, you may notice a difference in how you feel due to your new, healthy heart. Many heart transplant recipients go home after 15 days, but each patient’s case is unique. Your nurse coordinator will map out your lab tests and doctor visits to assess how your heart is functioning. You will have many lab visits, heart function tests and doctor appointments in the first year after surgery, and gradually your primary care doctor will start to take over your care. 

Complete recovery time varies from patient to patient, but most heart transplant patients are able to return to work after six months. Should you ever have a question, your Loyola transplant care team is available around the clock.

To learn more, read about heart transplant surgery at Loyola and our heart transplant frequently asked questions.

Pre- and Post-Heart Transplant Care in Your Community

Loyola is proud to offer patients a shared care model for your heart failure and transplant needs. Under this model of treatment, Loyola works with your primary cardiologist in your community to enable you to return to your normal routine and daily life. Working jointly with your local cardiologist following surgery enables you to have your ongoing follow-up care in your own community. We offer partnerships with:

  • Centegra Health System in McHenry and Woodstock
  • Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago
  • OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford
  • Presence St. Joseph’s Hospital in Joliet
  • Presence St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee
  • Rockford Memorial Hospital

Ongoing Clinical Trials to Advance Heart Transplant Research

Loyola is conducting research today that will lead to the treatments of tomorrow. As an academic medical center, Loyola can offer groundbreaking treatments through ongoing national trials and clinical research. Our program currently is participating in multicenter clinical trials for disease treatment, LVAD registry, medication usage and clinical outcomes. Loyola patients will be granted access to the latest medications and therapies through our clinical trials.