Pediatric Transplants

Looking for information on pediatric transplant care? Visit our pediatric transplant care page.

Heart Transplant

If heart function is worsening, visit the UNC Medical Center’s Center for Transplant Care as soon as possible. Our compassionate team of experts believes it’s best to consider your options early. That way, we can build a strong relationship and give you the best possible care—so you can return to a better quality of life. Options for treating advanced heart failure include heart transplant and partial artificial heart (Left Ventricular Assist Device or LVAD).

Our team also performs heart-lung, a procedure that replaces two organs in a single operation, and heart-kidney transplants, a series of two procedures that occur the same day.

Experts in Heart Transplant

When you choose UNC Medical Center for a heart transplant, you benefit from our experience. Since our first heart transplant in 1986, we’ve cared for more than 400 heart transplant recipients, and our 1 year graft survival rates are better than the national averages.

Your treatment team will include physicians from heart failure specialists and heart surgery—UNC specialties recognized in 2014 as being among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. These doctors will work hand-in-hand with the rest of your transplant team to provide individualized care and support to you and your family.

Coordinated Care Every Step of the Way

Dedicated heart transplant coordinators will serve as your expert guides from your initial evaluation through surgery and beyond. These specially trained nurses will arrange your medical tests, listen to your concerns, answer questions, act as liaisons between you and the rest of your transplant team, teach you how to care for your body after a transplant and more.

At UNC Medical Center, a heart transplant coordinator is available 24/7 to help with both routine issues and emergencies.

Specialized Facilities and Services

You’ll find dedicated heart failure and transplant facilities and services at NC Memorial Hospital and at the Heart Center at Meadowmont, including:

  • Specialized operating rooms for cardiothoracic surgery
  • Cardiac catheterization laboratories
  • A cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) and Cardio-Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) staffed by nurses specially trained in the care of transplant patients
  • An extensive post-transplant rehabilitation program to get you back to the activities you enjoy
  • Weekly transplant and heart failure clinics both before and after surgery
  • Specialized services for pediatric transplant patients and their families

When you choose UNC for your transplant, you have access to extensive support services. Learn about other services for you and your family.

Heart Transplant Evaluation

After your doctor refers to you to the UNC Transplant Center, you’ll start with a comprehensive evaluation. We’ll learn about you, your medical condition and how you and your family or other caregivers would cope with the stress of a transplant procedure. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know us and learn more about heart transplantation .

You’ll meet with our specialists—including surgeons, cardiologists, psychologists, and social workers —and go through a series of routine tests, including:
  • A Pap smear and mammogram for women
  • A prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) for men
  • A colonoscopy for individuals older than 50
  • Blood tests for hepatitis, HIV and other immune sensitivities
  • A chest X-ray to check your heart and lung health
  • Pulmonary function tests – Exams that measure how well your lungs take in and release air
  • An echocardiogram – An ultrasound that shows how well your heart beats and pumps blood
  • Radionuclide ventriculography – A noninvasive nuclear imaging test that shows how well your heart pumps
  • Right heart catheterization – A minimally-invasive procedure that shows how well the heart pumps and measures pressures in the heart and lungs

These tests may be followed by two or three days in the hospital for follow-up tests and procedures, depending on your needs.

Heart Transplant Candidacy & Pre-Transplant Care

If tests show you’re a good candidate for a heart transplant, you’ll be listed with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national transplant waiting list. You will need to be able to be reached 24/7/365 once you are on the list.

While you wait for your new heart, you’ll continue to meet regularly with your transplant team, and we’ll stay in close contact with your referring doctor in order to keep you in the best health possible. You may need a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) —also known as a heart pump—as a temporary treatment until a new heart becomes available. UNC Medical Center heart surgeons can determine which device is best for you and perform the procedure to implant it in your chest.

If you’re not a good candidate for transplantation, you may still be able to have other therapies such as a LVAD for Destination Therapy which can provide long-term permanent support for those patients who are not candidates for a heart transplant. We were the first LVAD center in North Carolina to be Joint Commission certified for Destination Therapy and have been continuously certified since 2010.

Heart Transplant Surgery

When a donor heart becomes available, your transplant coordinator will contact you and preparations for your surgery will begin.

During the operation, most of your heart will be removed and the new heart will be sewn in place. You also will receive new coronary arteries and valves. Heart transplant surgery usually lasts five to six hours, but can be longer if you’ve had previous open heart surgeries or have a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

Heart Transplant Follow-Up Care

Immediately following your transplant surgery, you’ll recover in the Cardio-Thoracics Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) for a few days, then move to a special transplant unit. You can plan to stay in the hospital for 10 to 14 days as you continue to recover post-transplant depending on your condition. Your doctors and nurses will monitor you closely in order to identify and treat any potential problems as soon as possible. You’ll also begin taking anti-rejection medications to give your body the best chance of accepting your new heart.

After you’re released from the hospital, you’ll follow up frequently with the UNC Medical Center Heart Transplant Team, and you and your referring physician will stay in close contact with your transplant team to track your progress and watch for complications. Your UNC Medical Center team will always be available for questions or follow-up care.

You’ll also be encouraged to participate in our extensive post-transplant rehabilitation program, which will help you regain your strength in a safe setting as you recover from surgery.

Transplant Team 'Part of Our Extended Family'

Born with a congenital heart defect, Samiya Hicks needed a heart transplant to survive. She got the transplant just after her first birthday and is now a happy 4-year-old who loves to play and dance. Samiya’s mom recalls her daughter’s experience, including the unforgettable care and support her family received from the team at UNC Medical Center.

Contact Us

To make an appointment for an evaluation for heart transplant candidacy, call our One Call Referral Center at 866-862-4327. Ask your physician for a referral before you call.