Ryan is an experienced health writer helping educate and inform people on all types of important health topics. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
June 22, 2021
A heart transplant is a procedure used to treat the most severe heart disease cases. It is a final stage treatment for those who have not seen improvement with medication or lifestyle changes and are in the final stages of heart failure.
A heart transplant is a marvel of modern medicine, but it is a complex, expensive procedure that can be pretty nerve-wracking to contemplate. Being informed helps mitigate fear. All you need to know about heart transplant procedures are here.
The raw cost of a heart transplant is north of $1.4 million. The average heart transplant cost with all related expenses in the first year is $1 million. This cost includes pre and post-surgery testing, the surgery itself, hospital stay, and subsequent medications. Anti-rejection medication can cost up to $2500 per month without insurance.
The prohibitive heart transplant cost can be almost as daunting as the procedure itself. A heart transplant is highly specialized surgery.
Of course, these costs are not set in stone. Pricing may vary depending on whether a patient has insurance, insurance coverage, the hospital itself, and other factors. A team of medical professionals who monitor the patient for eligibility will discuss these factors with you.
How long does a heart transplant last? Because of the cost of continuing medications, the survival time affects the heart transplant cost.
The median survival time has increased each decade and continues to do so, holding steady at about 12.5 years for a heart transplant. The world’s longest heart transplant survivor died 33 years after receiving his new heart in 1982.
A heart transplant lasts a median of around 12.5 years of survival, but the range is extensive, and how long a heart transplant lasts varies widely from patient-to-patient.
Survival rates of heart transplant recipients depend on their overall health but are generally high. The Mayo Clinic reports estimated overall survival rates at 88% for the first year and 75% after five years. Advances in medicine and procedure have increased the survival rate and length of organ transplant patients by leaps and bounds.
Heart transplant candidates must have heart failure due to: coronary artery disease (CAD), a congenital defect, valve disease or dysfunction, or cardiomyopathy (a weakened heart muscle).
A heart transplant is not easy to coordinate, and qualifying for it is not easy either. A candidate for a heart transplant must meet specific criteria before being considered for the procedure.
Even with one of the conditions listed above, the medical team will consider other factors:
Once chosen as an ideal candidate for a heart transplant, a patient is put on a donor waiting list to await a tissue and blood type match. While about 2,000 donor hearts are available any given year, a heart transplant waitlist usually has about 3,000 candidates.
If a matched donor heart becomes available, the procedure will need to take place immediately–usually within four hours. The average wait time for someone who is on a heart transplant waiting list is 144 days.
During a heart transplant procedure, the patient is put on a heart-lung machine to keep blood circulating during the surgery. The surgeon then makes the incision, opens up the thoracic cavity, and removes the heart. The back wall of the left atrium is left intact to prepare for receiving the new heart.
The surgeon stitches the new heart in place. Usually, the new heart starts when blood flow resumes. If the new heart doesn’t start on its own, the surgical team uses an electric shock to start the new heart. The doctor then takes the patient off of the heart-lung machine.
The entire procedure takes about four hours but may take longer if the patient has previous damage to the heart or other complicating factors. In those cases, surgery may take up to eight or nine hours.
For a day or two after surgery, the patient will stay in the intensive care unit for close monitoring. Medical staff will give the patient IV fluids, oxygen, and pain medication.
When the doctor deems the patient ready, the patient is moved to a traditional hospital room to continue the recovery process. A conventional hospital stay will last from one to three weeks, depending on overall health and any complications.
“After you leave the hospital,” reports Mayo Clinic, “your transplant team will monitor you at your outpatient transplant center. Due to the frequency and intensity of the monitoring, many people stay close to the transplant center for the first three months. Afterward, the follow-up visits are less frequent, and it’s easier to travel back and forth.”
After the hospital stay, some patients transfer to a cardiac rehabilitation unit. Here, doctors, nurses, and therapists take a team approach to ensuring that a patient adjusts well to their new life as a heart transplant recipient.
Close follow-up will follow for the next six months or so, although a heart recipient will have frequent follow-up and testing for the rest of their lives. Patients will be monitored for infection and started on anti-rejection medications. All new heart recipients are on two to three medicines for the rest of their lives, and It is not unusual for a heart transplant recipient to be on 12 to 14 medications.
A heart transplant is a complex, specialized surgery that doctors reserve for the most severe cases of heart disease. However, for those lucky enough to qualify for one and to receive a donor’s heart, they are life-changing. Advances in anti-rejection medication, the field of heart disease follow-up, and care, in general, have made it possible for 50% of heart recipients to make it over 14 years with their new heart. Life is precious. Heart transplants bring extra years or decades to those lucky enough to get on the list.
EverydayDr is proud to partner with a telehealth provider called PlushCare. Forbes recently awarded PlushCare a spot in the list of top start-ups of 2021. PlushCare offers access to primary care, urgent care, and in certain states – online therapy. They can’t conduct a heart transplant, but you can always book an appointment to talk to a general practitioner.
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