Heart Transplant FAQs

How many heart transplants have been performed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital?
The Heart Transplant Program has transplanted over 600 hearts since its start in 1985, with outcomes that meet or exceed national averages. In 2006, we celebrated our 20th anniversary of our program. We currently transplant about 25-28 patients per year.

How can I find out if I'm a candidate for a heart transplant?
The first step in the process is to call our office to schedule a visit. It is important that your local cardiologist send us copies of some of your current medical information. The information we would need includes the following:

  • patient name, address and phone number

  • date of birth

  • letter or note from physician outlining medical history

  • reports from any recent echocardiograms

  • most recent cardiac catheterization

  • all operations done on the heart

  • copies of any recent lab tests

What options do I have besides heart transplant?
Since Barnes-Jewish Hospital is affiliated with Washington University, a preeminent teaching institution, there may be several options available to you. You may be qualified to participate in heart failure research trials. Additionally, changing or increasing your medication regimen may improve your heart function to the point that a transplant is not needed. We offer the option of ventricular assist devices (VADs) for qualified patients requiring additional support while awaiting heart transplantation. VADs are also available to be used as "destination therapy" when transplant is not an option.

What happens during the transplant evaluation?
The evaluation consists of two to three days of testing and consultations. The testing is done on an outpatient basis, so you will not be hospitalized in most instances. A letter will be mailed to you outlining your scheduled tests and timing of the tests.

When will I know if I can have a transplant?
Once the testing is complete, the members of the transplant team will review all of the information from your testing. Following this meeting, one of the transplant coordinators will contact you to discuss your findings and our recommendations. If the transplant team decides that a transplant is your best option, you will be given the opportunity to go on the UNOS waitlist for a heart transplant.

What does it mean to be "on the waitlist"?
The "list" is maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This is a national list containing the names of all the people in the United States who are waiting for an organ transplant. Being on the list means that your name along with some other important personal and medical information has been entered into the UNOS computer database.

How far away can I live while I wait?
You will need to be close enough that you can get to the hospital within 2 ½ hours of being called, either by car or airplane.

How long will I wait for a donor?
The waiting time can vary from person to person. Every person on the UNOS heart transplant waiting list is assigned a status. This status is an important factor in determining your priority for receiving a heart transplant. The system places patients in order by taking into account heart status, blood type, size match to the door organ, and geographic distance between the transplant candidate and the hospital where the donor heart is located.

How long will I be in the hospital following my transplant?
This can vary from person to person. However, most people are in the hospital from 10 to 14 days. Generally, you'll be in the Intensive Care Unit two to three days and on the general cardiac surgery division for seven to 10 days.

Will I need to take medications for the rest of my life?
Yes. To attempt to prevent your body from rejecting your new heart, you will need to take immunosuppressive medications daily for the rest of your life. These medications play a crucial role in keeping your new heart working properly.

What is rejection?
Rejection occurs when your body's immune system recognizes your new heart as foreign and attacks it. Your transplant team will discuss the signs and symptoms of rejection with you. In addition, you will have frequent testing and routine clinic appointments to monitor you for rejection.

How often will I be required to return to Barnes-Jewish Hospital?
You will need to remain in the local area for the first month following your transplant. The transplant team will see you in clinic two times a week for the first week after discharge. You will need to have a heart biopsy every 10 days for the first month, then every two weeks for the next two months. After this time period, biopsies are done monthly for approximately one year. Eventually, you will be required to visit us only once a year for your annual evaluation.

What types of costs are associated with heart transplants?
There are many costs associated with a heart transplant. These include things such as travel to and from St. Louis, lodging, and insurance deductibles and co-payments you may have. Additional expenses may include medications and other outpatient therapies such as cardiac rehabilitation.

Will my insurance cover the costs associated with the transplant?
Benefits and coverage limits can vary a great deal. However, most insurance plans cover some portion of the costs. It is important that you contact your insurance company to get specific information on coverage and limitations. Our financial specialist and social worker will be able to provide some assistance in getting you the information you need.

For more information on the heart transplant program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call (855) 925-0631.

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