How does the heart transplantation happen?

The first successful transplantation of a human heart took place in 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. The first heart transplant to a child occurred in 1982. The first successful heart transplantation in Russia took place later – in 1987. Nowadays, every year more than 3000 heart transplant operations take place in more than 330 clinics around the world. New methods and solutions for treating the heart conditions arise constantly.

How is the heart transplant operation performed?

First, the patient in need of a heart transplant has to undergo full medical examination to determine whether or not he can survive such a complicated operation. The examination includes a whole complex of analyses and numerous procedures, from the tests determining the possible infections to the cardiac muscle biopsy.

The donor has to meet the following criteria: confirmed brain death, age less than 65, normal functioning heart and the lack of various heart pathologies like coronary heart disease. After the extraction of the heart from the donor’s chest and its transportation to the surgery site, the surgeon performs a visual inspection and decides if this heart if fit for the transplantation.

During the operation, the blood circulation is maintained artificially. Surgeons gain access to the heart, exposing it and the large blood vessels around it; then the patient is connected to the artificial blood-circulation device through the previously inserted catheters. Then the heart is extracted and replaced by the donor one; after that the surgeon puts down a few rows of stitches, connects the large blood vessels, removes the clamps – and disconnects the artificial blood circulation, after which proceeds to sew up the patient.

Heart transplant: how long do the patients live?

Considering how complicated the heart transplantation is, the consequences can be very unpredictable. The first patient lived for only 18 days after the surgery, before dying of pneumonia. But nowadays the number of deaths in the first months following the operation is considerably smaller; people with transplanted hearts live from 10 to 30 years after the operation, and the causes of death in the majority of these cases are not the heart malfunction, but infection, traumas and wrong treatment.

Who needs a heart transplant?

The heart transplantation is usually performed when the life expectancy of a patient is less than a year. This is associated with the most common cause of death in the world – heart failure, which causes the malfunction of the heart’s transport function.
For a patient in need of a heart transplant, the cost is usually very important. The heart transplantation is probably the most expensive surgery in modern medicine. The average cost of the surgery is around 250000 $. The patient may need expensive treatment, constant dependence on medicine and regular visits to the cardiology centre. So, although the procedure has already become ordinary in many countries, there are a number of possible alternatives for the people whose heart’s transport function doesn’t work properly.

One of the alternatives is the installation of an artificial blood-circulation device like LVAD “Sputnik”. This is a far cheaper and faster alternative to the heart transplantation or the installation of an artificial heart.