Heart Transplant

If you live with advanced heart failure, visit UNC Medical Center’s Jason Ray Transplant Clinic to start considering your options with our compassionate team of experts as soon as possible. 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.

Experts in Heart Transplant

When you choose UNC Medical Center for a heart transplant, you benefit from our years of transplant experience. Since our first heart transplant in 1986, we’ve cared for heart transplant recipients with a team-based approach.

Your treatment team will include physicians, such as heart failure specialists and heart surgeons, who work hand-in-hand with the rest of your transplant team to provide individualized care and support to you and your family.

Multi-Organ Transplantation

Our team also performs heart transplantation in combination with other organs, such as:

  • Heart-lung – Replaces two organs in a single operation
  • Heart-kidney – Replaces two organs with a series of procedures on the same day

Coordinated Care Every Step of the Way

Dedicated heart transplant coordinators 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, and teach you how to care for your body after a transplant and more. They also act as liaisons between you and the rest of your transplant team.

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 and cardio-thoracic intensive care Unit 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. Our conversation also offers 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

After these tests, you may stay in the hospital two or three days 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, your heart surgeon will remove most of your heart and sew a new heart into 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 an LVAD.

Heart Transplant Follow-Up Care

Immediately following your transplant surgery, you’ll recover in the Cardio-Thoracic Intensive Care Unit for a few days. Then, you’ll move to a special transplant unit. Post-transplant, you can plan to recover in the hospital for 10 to 14 days, depending on your condition. Your doctors and nurses will monitor you closely to identify and treat 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 hospital stay, you’ll follow up frequently with the UNC Medical Center heart transplant team. You and your referring physician will continue to stay in close contact with your UNC team so they can track your progress, watch for complications, answer questions or provide additional care. 

You’re also encouraged to participate in our extensive post-transplant rehabilitation program, which helps 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 Cardiology Referral Center at 984-974-2900. Ask your physician for a referral before you call.