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What To Expect During a Heart Transplant

Just before heart transplant surgery, the patient will get general anesthesia (AN-es-THE-ze-ah). The term "anesthesia" refers to a loss of feeling and awareness. General anesthesia temporarily puts you to sleep.

Surgeons use open-heart surgery to do heart transplants. The surgeon will make a large incision (cut) in the patient’s chest to open the rib cage and operate on the heart.

A heart-lung bypass machine is hooked up to the heart’s arteries and veins. The machine pumps blood through the patient's lungs and body during the surgery.

The surgeon removes the patient’s diseased heart and sews the healthy donor heart into place. The patient’s aorta and pulmonary arteries are not replaced as part of the surgery.

Heart Transplant

The illustration shows a cross-section of a healthy heart and its inside structures. The blue arrow shows the direction in which oxygen-poor blood flows from the body to the lungs. The red arrow shows the direction in which oxygen-rich blood flows from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Figure A shows where the diseased heart is cut for removal. Figure B shows where the healthy donor heart is sutured (stitched) to the recipient's arteries and veins.

Heart transplant surgery usually takes about 4 hours. Patients often spend the first days after surgery in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

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January 3, 2012