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Heart transplant basics

To most people, a heart transplant is the ultimate heart surgery. David Dean, M.D. explains the procedure in more detail. “The way we do it is a little different than the traditional way,” says Dr. Dean. “We take out the entire heart and leave a small portion of the left atrium in the back of the heart because this is how we sew the lungs back into the heart.

The heart-lung machine supports the body while we stop the heart so there is no pumping function. We either put a valve in or take the heart out, as long as the patient is on the heart-lung machine.”


Finding the Right Donor Match

Most donor hearts come from young people who have had a tragedy, says Dr. Dean. “At the end of the day, the donor’s family usually sees a donation as a positive side to a horrible accident or tragedy,” he says.

There are approximately 50 people on the heart transplant waiting list in Georgia. A government-run organization called United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) oversees the list. A physician uploads a patient’s information into a computer database and when a donor heart becomes available, a computer program will match it with a compatible patient.

To determine whether or not a donor heart will be a good match, first the physician must travel to wherever the heart is located to decide if it is a good fit. “If the heart looks good, we’ll keep it and put it into our patient,” says Dr. Dean.

The time frame between a doctor accepting the heart and actually transplanting it into his or her patient is relatively short. “It’s like what you see on TV,” he says. “The heart is stopped and put on ice, then we have around four hours to put it into the transplant patient.”

Piedmont’s LVAD and transplant program is unique because of its multidisciplinary team of heart transplant surgeons, heart transplant cardiologists, nurse clinicians, social workers, administrators, psychiatrists and dieticians. “It’s a big team that takes care of pretty much every aspect of the patient’s care,” he says. To learn more about Piedmont’s heart transplant program, visit Piedmont’s Advanced Heart Failure Center.

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