Some people spend months or years on the waiting list. At Yale, before anyone is added to the heart transplant roster, they meet with a team that includes a social worker, pharmacist, nutritionist and surgeon to plan pre- and post-transplant care. Potential transplant recipients must also undergo medical tests to determine if the transplant will benefit them.
“With this multidisciplinary approach, many experts come together and discuss quite openly what we think is the likelihood that the person will be fine after the operation,” says Arnar Geirsson, MD, division chief of cardiac surgery.
Transplant surgery is a complex procedure and can take anywhere from three to 12 hours. Recipients recover in the intensive care unit and can usually walk around within days.
“As long as everything is going well, we start education fairly quickly. We give patients a good idea of what life after transplant is like, in terms of the nuances of medications, dietary changes, and other aspects of their care that they need to think about,” says Kelsey Siegel, RN , transplant coordinator of the Heart and Vascular Center. at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Immunosuppressive drugs make transplantation possible, says Mabel Wai, a transplant pharmacist at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Cardiac and Vascular Center.
“These are drugs that reduce the responsiveness of your immune system at the time of transplant due to how the body reacts to or rejects foreign objects, such as a transplanted heart,” Wai explains.
However, this “weakened” immune system puts patients at risk of infections, especially during the first year after transplantation. That’s why it’s important for transplant recipients to have lasting relationships with their healthcare team.
“For 10, 15 or even 20 years, we have been seeing our patients twice a year to make sure they are staying healthy. We are committed to our patients by being their support team and giving them the resources they need post-transplant,” says Siegel.
In this video, see how, through a patient’s journey, a heart transplant at Yale is performed.