​Heart Transplant: What to Expect

Referral for Evaluation
Heart Transplant Evaluation
Before Your Transplant
After Surgery
Post-Transplant Care
Staying Healthy

Because it is often a long and difficult process, heart transplantation follows a deliberate and orderly progression.

Comprising one of the oldest transplant programs in the world, UPMC's heart transplant experts have more than 30 years of of experience in understanding the needs of patients and their families.

Our caring professionals will guide you every step of the way.

1. Referral for Transplant Evaluation

  • Your doctor will decide if you should have an evaluation for a heart transplant and, if necessary, will refer you to the specialists at the UPMC Heart Transplantation Program.
  • Our multidisciplinary heart transplant team will work closely with your doctor to ensure that you receive a thorough preliminary review of your medical history, lab work, and other information to determine if a transplant is appropriate.
  • You also will meet with a credit analyst and a case manager who will work with you to secure insurance approval. We participate with the following insurance provider networks:
    • Aetna Institutes of Excellence™ Transplant Facilities
    • CIGNA LifeSOURCE Transplant Network®
    • OptumHealth Transplant Centers of Excellence Network

2. Heart Transplant Evaluation

The transplant evaluation:

  • Begins after insurance approval.
  • Is on an outpatient basis.
  • Can take up to a week.

You will need to remain in Pittsburgh during this time. Family House provides a “home away from home” for patients and their families traveling to Pittsburgh for treatment.

Your case manager, a specialized transplant nurse, will assist you with insurance issues from evaluation through discharge.

During the evaluation, you will undergo diagnostic testing and consultations with a number of specialists, including:

  • Transplant surgeons
  • Cardiologists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Nutritionists

This team will determine whether you are a candidate for heart transplant surgery at this time. If you're not ready for transplant, we will continue to monitor you and re-evaluate you in the future.

If transplantation is not appropriate, we will work with you to explore other state-of-the-art medical and surgical program options at UPMC, including the Advanced Heart Failure Center or Artificial Heart Program.

3. Before Your Heart Transplant

If you are approved for heart transplantation:

  • You will be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing’s organ waiting list. Time on the waiting list depends on your size and blood type. This period can be anywhere from days to years, but our median wait time is generally two months, which is lower than the national average.
  • You will be assigned to a pre-transplant coordinator — a nurse who specializes in managing the care of transplant patients before surgery.
  • Your pre-transplant coordinator will work with your case manager, doctor, and the UPMC heart transplant team to ensure you receive comprehensive care while you wait.
  • Your doctors may recommend the use of a ventricular assist device (VAD) as a bridge to transplantation. This helps you live a healthier life while you wait for a suitable donor heart.

As soon as a heart becomes available, your pre-transplant coordinator will ask you to report to UPMC.

4. After Heart Transplant Surgery

Certified transplant nurses and other specialized professionals in the advanced transplant intensive care unit will monitor your progress and stabilize you after surgery.

During the remainder of your hospital stay, your case manager and transplant coordinators will:

  • Manage your recovery and prepare you for discharge.
  • Keep your doctors apprised of your condition.
  • Determine whether you will need inpatient rehabilitation or skilled nursing care.
  • Work with your insurer to cover post-transplant medications.
  • Help you and your family with any issues or concerns.

5. Post-Transplant Care

When you're ready to go home, your outpatient transplant coordinator will:

  • Monitor your blood work.
  • Schedule tests and follow-up visits.
  • Help connect you with your primary care physician who will manage your care after transplantation.
  • Work with other members of the team, including pharmacists, physical therapists, and social workers, to guide your recovery.

Caring for your new heart is a commitment.

Your discharge coordinator will connect you and your family with the tools and resources you need to return to living a healthy life.

6. Helping You and Your New Heart Stay Healthy

In any transplant surgery, sustainable immunosuppression is key.

When the body detects a foreign substance — a virus, an object, or a replacement organ — its natural instinct is to fight the intruder.

Researchers at UPMC's Heart Transplantation Program have developed innovative strategies to help your body and donor heart adjust to each other by temporarily suppressing your immune system.

These therapies strike a delicate balance between the body's acceptance of a new heart and its natural inclination to fight off disease. 

Contact Us

Contact the Cardiothoracic Transplantation Program: 412-648-6202 or cttransplant@upmc.edu

Referring physicians may use our 24-hour service at: 1-800-544-2500.

Your UPMC Heart Transplant Guides

Key contacts throughout the transplant process:

  • Transplant cardiologists, surgeons, and other specialists
  • Credit analyst
  • Case manager
  • Pre-transplant coordinator
  • Outpatient transplant coordinator
  • Discharge coordinator


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