How a heart transplant is performed 

A heart transplant is carried out under general anaesthetic (where you are unconscious) and normally takes between four and six hours.

You will be connected to a heart bypass machine, which acts as an artificial heart, circulating and oxygenating your blood while the transplant is being performed.

A thin flexible tube called a catheter will be inserted to drain your bladder during and after the operation.

The procedure involves the following steps:

  • A cut (incision) is made over your breastbone and the bone separated, allowing the surgeon to access your heart.
  • Your heart is removed, leaving behind a portion of the right and left atria (the two upper chambers of the heart).
  • The new heart is then connected to the aorta (main artery from the heart), pulmonary artery and the remaining part of the atria.

When the heart begins to function and the medical team is satisfied, you will be taken off the bypass machine.

After the transplant

When the procedure is over, there will be drains (tubes) coming out of your chest. Your breastbone will have been closed with stainless steel wires, and the tissues and skin will have been closed with dissolvable stitches.

You will wake up in the intensive care unit, under sedation and attached to a ventilator to help your breathing.

Once your team are happy with your condition, you can be moved to a high-dependency ward for further monitoring.

Read more information about recovering from a heart transplant.

Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016