When a suitable heart has been found, arrangements are made for you to be admitted to the transplant ward and prepared for surgery.
Once the surgeons have decided that the donor heart is a good match for you, you will be given a general anesthetic, which will put you in a deep sleep, and the surgery will begin. During the transplant surgery, your heart is removed and replaced with the donor heart.
The transplant surgery will take about 4 – 6 hours depending on your condition. The surgery involves making an incision (or cut) down your breastbone (or sternum). Your blood flow is then controlled by a heart-lung (bypass) machine, which performs all of the functions of your heart and lungs during the surgery.
The surgeon removes your old heart and your new heart is implanted by joining the major blood vessels.
More details on the actual surgical procedure are available from your transplant team if you would like to know more.
After the Operation
After the operation, you will be taken to the cardiac surgery intensive care unit to recover. When you first wake up, you will hear voices, bubbling noises, and the sounds of medical equipment around you. For several hours you will be very drowsy. You will also notice a bandage on your chest, and various tubes and lines connected to you.
During the first day or two, you will not be able to eat or drink. Once the endo-tracheal tube is out, you can have ice chips to suck on to relieve your thirst. You will gradually be given liquids, and then solid foods. By the third day after surgery, you will be allowed to eat and drink again. Sometimes the medications you have had can make you lose your appetite. Everyone is different, and the dietitian, nurses and doctors will develop a plan for you.
Some patients wake up from the surgery feeling confused and unsure of where they are or what has happened to them. The nurses will keep reminding you and if your feelings of confusion become too severe, medications can be used to help you.
Immediate family or loved ones can visit you in ICU at during visitors timings after the first 24 hours following surgery. It’s best to inform everyone else to visit you when you’re back home to avoid contact with too many people some of whom may carry infections.
When visitors first see you, you will not look your normal self. You will have tubes and lines coming from your body, and will be surrounded with equipment. It may be that your face is swollen from extra fluid (this will disappear in a day or two). You may also temporarily look pale and be cool to the touch, which is partially due to the anaesthetic.
Transfer to the Transplant Ward
Recovery time varies from person to person. The length of time you remain in ICU will depend on your progress. Once you have recovered sufficiently, usually within a few days, you will be moved to the transplant ward.
At this time you and your caregiver will start learning about how life will be now that the transplant is over. You’ll be told about your new medications, what to prepare for after you go home and how to properly maintain your health. You may be in the ward for up to 7 –10 days.