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Pediatric Heart Transplant

A heart transplant is a well-established treatment for children whose heart is not strong enough to keep them alive or to do the things they should be able to do.

Children’s Health℠ is one of the few institutions in the country – and the only one in North Texas – to offer heart transplants for children. Our program is one of the largest and most experienced in the country. We have been doing heart transplants for more than 30 years. We also work with children whose care poses such challenges that other hospitals ask Children’s Health to assess, treat, and if necessary, offer heart transplantation.

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What is a Pediatric Heart Transplant?

During a heart transplant, doctors remove a heart that is sick and replace it with a healthy heart. The new heart will usually come from a child, but sometimes from a young adult, who has died from other causes and whose family has agreed to donate the organ. Most children who receive a heart transplant do well and lead a normal life, though they will need frequent visits with their doctors.

Our pediatric transplant team is made up of specialists from UT Southwestern with world-class expertise. We will be there for you, your child and your family every step of the way to make sure that you receive the compassionate care and support that you need.

Why would a child need a Pediatric Heart Transplant?

Children may need a heart transplant if they were born with a problem that cannot be fixed with surgery. Children also may need a transplant if they were born with a healthy heart but developed an infection or other medical condition that made their heart fail. When a child has a heart that is failing, doctors will try medications and other procedures or surgery before turning to transplant as an option.

What to expect during a Pediatric Heart Transplant?

After the operation, your child will be taken to intensive care unit, where they will probably spend one to two weeks. You will be able to have short visits with your child. For the first few days, your child may be asleep and probably be breathing through a ventilator. They will likely be able to go home within two to four weeks.

After surgery, your child will see our care team for regular follow-up visits. The team will see you frequently at first to be sure that your child’s body is not rejecting the new heart. They will have frequent lab tests and imaging, such as echocardiograms and EKG. After one year, your child will usually see our care team every three months. Your child will need to take medications for the rest of their life to prevent their immune system from rejecting the new heart.

What to expect after a Pediatric Heart Transplant?

After the operation, your child will be taken to intensive care unit, where they will probably spend one to two weeks. You will be able to have short visits with your child. For the first few days, your child may be asleep and probably be breathing through a ventilator. They will likely be able to go home within two to four weeks.

After surgery, your child will see our care team for regular follow-up visits. The team will see you frequently at first to be sure that your child’s body is not rejecting the new heart. They will have frequent lab tests and imaging, such as echocardiograms and EKG. After one year, your child will usually see our care team every three months. Your child will need to take medications for the rest of their life to prevent their immune system from rejecting the new heart.

Preparing your child for Pediatric Heart Transplant surgery

Our care team will evaluate your child to determine if they need a transplant. This information helps us make sure that your child will receive a heart that is the right fit at the right time.

It is important to make sure that your child stays as healthy as possible while they wait for their new heart. You can help your child:

  • Eat a good and varied diet
  • Be as active as they are able to be
  • Avoid exposure with sick people

Our care team can work closely with your family during this time. Our dietician can consult with you if you have questions about the best diet for your child. Our social worker, psychologist and other specialists will always support you, your child and your family before and after the transplant.

When a donor heart that would be a good fit for your child becomes available, we will notify you. Because a heart can become available suddenly, be sure that the care team can easily reach you at all times by phone. We recommend that you keep a bag of clothes and essentials packed so that you can be ready to bring your child to the hospital as soon as you hear that a donor heart is ready.

What questions should I ask my provider about a Pediatric Heart Transplant?

Question that you might ask your care team about heart transplant include:

  • Are there other treatment options for my child?
  • How long will we be waiting for a donor heart?
  • Will my child get a heart in time?
  • Where will the heart come from?
  • What do I need to do afterwards to care for my child?
  • What are some of the drawbacks of transplant?

Pediatric Heart Transplant Doctors and Providers

Your child will be cared for by a diverse team of specialists:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do transplanted organs come from?

    Transplanted hearts come from children who did not survive a serious illness or injury and their parents agreed to donate their child s organs to help others.

    If your child is eligible for a transplant, they will be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list. UNOS distributes donor hearts based on which children need them most and who is the best match.

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

    Your child s donor heart will grow along with them, but transplanted hearts do not last forever and so some children do require a second transplant.

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

    The length of time a child waits can depend on how quickly they need a new heart and on heart donation availability. A heart can become available within a few days, weeks or months. Children s Health tends to have one of the shortest waiting times thanks to our team approach to accepting donor hearts and our willingness to travel within a 1000-mile radius to procure hearts. Some children wait at home, while others may stay in the hospital.

  • What are the 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 years and up) include:

    • Poor appetite
    • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
    • Easy fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
  • What are some of the illnesses that may result in the need for a heart transplant?

    Different diseases can make a heart transplant necessary, including:

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