Jump to content
VCU Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Department of Surgery, Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery

VCU Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery

Heart transplantation

VCU Pauley Heart Center’s transplantation program is distinguished by its esteemed heart failure and transplant specialists, its pioneering surgical techniques and technologies, and its excellent outcome record.

Our heart transplant program was established in 1968, making it the longest running transplant program on the East coast and the second oldest in the United States. We have remained a leader in the development of heart transplantation, contributing to improvements in transplant technology, medications, procedures and management. Under our present program, we have performed over 400 transplants.

Heart transplantation is a lifelong journey for both the patient and his or her family, with physical, emotional and personal challenges that vary along the way. We provide exceptional, individualized guidance and care at every stage of the process—from evaluation as a transplant candidate, through the waiting period for a donor heart, to surgery, post-surgical care and long-term follow-up.

Our heart transplant team includes transplant surgeons, cardiologists, nurse practitioners, transplant coordinators, transplant pharmacists, psychologists, financial counselors and other healthcare professionals. They receive additional support from experts in a variety of specialty areas at the VCU Medical Center.

The Transplantation Process

The decision to consider having a heart transplant is a big one. It is important that patients and their families understand what to expect of the transplant process, the surgery, the risks that are involved, and care after the transplant. Following is information that may help you in making your decision. It is divided into four sections:

  • Evaluation for Heart Transplant
  • Waiting for a New Heart
  • The Transplant Surgery
  • Going Home and Living with a New Heart

Evaluation for Heart Transplant

Once you are referred to VCU Pauley Heart Center you will be evaluated with special tests and will meet members of the transplant team to see if you are a good candidate for transplantation and if transplantation is the best option for you. There are numerous tests that must be done on your heart and lungs to help us make the final decision. Blood tests will give us more information about you and your illness. When the evaluation testing is complete, it will be reviewed and additional tests will be performed if necessary.

Our nurse practitioners and coordinators will examine you and teach you more about heart transplantation and your responsibilities with a new heart. Our heart doctors and heart surgeons will examine you and answer any questions you may have about the procedure.

Once all the tests are done the transplant team meets to determine if a new heart is the best option for you. We will call you to let you know the final decision.

Waiting for a New Heart

Patients waiting for a new heart are immediately placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list. UNOS was established in 1986 as a contract from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

UNOS manages the national transplant waiting list, matching donor organs to recipients 24 hours a day, 365 day a year. UNOS monitors every organ allocation to ensure compliance. The limited supply of organs is distributed justly and according to the condition of each patient on the list. You can learn more about UNOS at www.unos.org

You may wait several weeks to several months for a heart that is the right size and blood type for you. While you are waiting for your new heart, we will see you in clinic on a regular schedule.

A transplant surgeon, physician and coordinator are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for transplant surgery and patient problems. All transplant candidates and patients are given contact information for non-emergency and emergency access to our team. If there is ever a change in our physicians, surgeons or coordinators, patients will be notified by mail along with information on our plans to cover patient care.

The Transplant Surgery

Patients may be called into the hospital for the transplant at any time. The surgery takes about 4-6 hours. After the surgery you will be taken to the intensive care unit. Most patients remain in the intensive care unit for 3-4 days after the surgery and in the hospital for a total of 10-14 days after heart transplantation.

While you are in the hospital you and your family will learn about all of your new medications, including how to take each medication and why you are taking it. You also will learn about any symptoms that indicate that you should call the transplant team, and you will be counseled on how to stay healthy after transplantation.

Going Home and Living with a New Heart

Once you are ready to go home, you will be given a schedule telling you when you have your next appointments at VCU Pauley Heart Center. Your clinic visits will be weekly at first but will decrease in the number of visits as you continue to improve.

You will be asked to monitor your blood pressure, weight, temperature and pulse and to record this information in a diary. You also will need to record in your diary all your medications and when you take them.

Many heart recipients return to work within several months after their transplant. When you return to work depends on how you feel and the type of work you will be doing.  Our transplant team of doctors, nurses and social workers can help you decide if and when you can return to work.

Issues surrounding your insurance, including coverage for medications, co-payments and applying for a new insurance policy with a new employer can be confusing. Our financial coordinator and social worker will discuss your insurance coverage with you, as well hospital billing and other financial concerns you may have.

For more information about heart transplantation and living with a new heart, you may wish to visit: