Heart transplants are the third most common (corneas and kidneys are the most common) transplant operations in the U.S. (over 1,500 cases per year). A healthy heart is obtained from a donor who has suffered brain death but remains on life-support. The healthy heart is transported in a special solution that preserves the organ. While the patient is deep asleep and pain-free (general anesthesia), an incision is made through the breast bone (sternum). The patient's blood is re-routed through tubes to a heart-lung bypass machine to keep the blood oxygen-rich and circulating. The patient's diseased heart is removed and the donor heart is stitched in place.
Update Date 6/6/2013
Updated by: Matthew M. Cooper, MD, FACS, Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery; Medical Director, CareCore National, Bluffton, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.