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Heart Transplant

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250th heart transplant patient and mom

A heart transplant is an operation in which a diseased heart is replaced with a healthy heart received from a donor.

When medication and surgery are not enough to help your child get better, he or she may benefit from a heart transplant. This is the most advanced form of treatment, and Children’s Health℠ is one of the most experienced heart transplant centers in the country.

For some children with severe heart disease, even the most aggressive treatments fail to relieve their symptoms. Their heart simply cannot meet their body’s needs. Also known as end-stage heart failure, this is a life-threatening condition.

Among the illnesses that may result in the need for a heart transplant are:

  • Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle characterized by the inability of the heart to pump blood effectively
  • Complex congenital heart disease (meaning it is present at birth)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Serious heart rhythm disorder, also known as an arrhythmia

During a long and carefully coordinated operation, we replace your child’s diseased heart with a healthy one from another person (donor).

Access the Heart Notebook (English) and in Spanish.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Heart Failure 

Heart transplant surgery offers a life-saving option for children with a severe form of heart disease known as heart failure. Heart failure symptoms are different at certain ages.

Heart failure symptoms in babies include:

  • Poor growth
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Lack of energy

Heart failure symptoms in older children (ages 4 and up) include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Easy fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Enlarged liver
  • Abnormal heart rhythm known as a “gallop”
Tests and Diagnosis

Heart Transplant Tests and Diagnosis

Considering heart transplant surgery for your child is a major decision that can affect your child’s short- and long-term health. When you come to Children’s Health, you can relax knowing you will not go it alone. Physicians at Children’s Health are world-class subspecialists from UT Southwestern who provide compassionate care that is considerate of your family’s preferences.

To prepare for transplant surgery, we perform a comprehensive physical exam and many diagnostic tests. We use this information to determine the urgency of your child’s condition and to make sure he or she receives the donor heart that is right for them.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Exercise testing
  • Cardiac catheterization

We perform diagnostic tests using special imaging equipment designed with our smallest patients in mind including the Siemens Artis Q.zen angiography system, which offers crisp images of your child’s heart with minimal radiation exposure.  Learn more about the full spectrum of tests available from our cardiac imaging department. 

Treatments

Heart Transplant Surgery

If your child is a good candidate for transplant surgery, we will place him or her on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list. UNOS makes sure that available organs are given to the children who need them most. There are many factors that go in to matching donor hearts with children in need, the most important of which is making sure the donor heart is a good fit for your child. Learn more about the UNOS transplant allocation process.

Sometimes children wait only a few days or a few weeks to receive a new heart, but in some cases it takes longer. If your child’s condition continues to worsen while waiting, there’s still plenty we can do to help.

Temporary, “bridge to transplant” treatments, include:

  • Inotropes: Potent medications that can be given directly in the veins by a continuous pump to help the heart function better
  • Ventricular assist devices (VADs): Small pumps that help maintain good blood flow when a child’s heart can no longer pump on its own. Learn more about our ventricular assist device program.
  • Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO): A complex network of machines acts as a temporary artificial lung, bringing oxygen into the body when your child’s own heart is no longer able to do so.

When a heart becomes available, we operate as quickly as possible. After surgery, we closely monitor your child’s condition to help him or her recover from surgery. We help keep your child healthy after surgery with specialized follow up care.

FAQs

Heart Transplant FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What is a heart transplant?

A heart transplant is an operation to replace a failing heart with a healthy one from another person.

Where do transplanted organs come from?

Transplanted hearts come from organ donors. Organ donors are children who do not survive a serious illness or injury whose parents have agreed beforehand to donate their child’s organs.

If my child receives a donor heart as a baby, will they need an additional transplant as they grow bigger?

No. Your child’s donor heart will grow along with them and should last their entire lifetime. This is why finding the right heart for your child is so important.

How long will my child have to wait for a donor heart?

Some children receive donor hearts within a few days or a few weeks, sometimes it takes longer. If your child is sicker than other children on the UNOS waiting list they may receive a heart faster, but one needs to become available first. 

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