Before the Transplant
In order for the transplant to occur, a donor heart must be provided. Your child will be placed on a national transplant list through the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), which matches donor organs with adults and children awaiting transplantation in the United States. How soon your child receives a heart is based on a number of factors, including medical urgency, your child’s blood type, the size of your child’s heart and time on the wait list.
While your child is waiting for a heart, our team closely monitors your child’s health and works with your family to provide the support you need. To prevent clots from forming in the heart, your child may be put on blood thinner medications. Your child may take medications to prevent dangerous heart rhythms from occurring as well, which are more frequent in failing hearts. We may also find ways to boost your child’s nutrition, as your child may have trouble taking in enough calories.
Once a suitable donor heart can be provided, a team (which includes a pediatric heart surgeon from Rady Children’s Hospital) travels to the donor hospital to retrieve the heart. The heart will be carefully transported back to Rady Children’s for the transplant surgery.
When the transplant begins, the surgeon will place your child on a heart-lung machine that takes over the work of your child’s heart. The failing, old heart is then removed, and the new donor heart is sutured into place. For children who have not had prior open heart surgery, the heart transplant surgery typically lasts six to eight hours.
Recovering from the transplant typically requires a hospital stay of 10 to 14 days. If complications occur, they may include kidney dysfunction, infection, bleeding, and/or rejection.
To prevent rejection of the new heart, medications will be monitored and adjusted to suppress your child’s immune system without putting your child at undue risk for infection and other side effects. We will also monitor your child with regular echocardiographic studies and heart biopsies.
Although heart transplant patients must remain on various medications for the rest of their lives, most are able lead normal, active lives. Most children are able to eventually able to return to school full time and often participate in activities they were unable to do before transplantation. We will work with you and your child to determine which activities your child can pursue.
See Frequently Asked Questions for more information.