Heart Transplant

If you have advanced heart failure and other treatments aren’t working, a heart transplant may be the answer. A heart transplant can prolong your life and greatly improve your quality of life.

UI Health Care is the only health system in Iowa to offer heart transplantation.

Our approach to heart transplant

Your UI Health Care transplant team goes far beyond your surgeon. From evaluation through transplant and lifelong follow-up, you’ll be cared for by:

We take a team approach because we know that heart failure and heart transplant affect every aspect of your life. And we want to make sure you and your loved ones have all the resources you need.

That includes the most advanced heart failure treatment options in Iowa. It also includes extensive support services before and after transplant.

What to expect before, during, and after a heart transplant

We tailor your care to meet your needs. A typical transplant process includes:

Evaluation and approval

The process of getting a heart transplant starts with a comprehensive evaluation. We know you may be traveling to Iowa City for your care, so we do the entire evaluation in a single day. It includes:

  • Tests and exams to evaluate your health, paying special attention to how your heart, lungs, and kidneys are working
  • Consultations with specialists who will have a role in your care, including a transplant surgeon, cardiologist, and many others
  • An educational session with a transplant nurse coordinator who will explain the transplant process in detail, with have plenty of time to ask questions
  • Conversations with a social worker about your family, support systems, substance use, and more

Within a week of your evaluation, all the team members you saw will meet to determine whether you could benefit from a transplant. They’ll also discuss what other tests or treatments you may need.

Waiting for a transplant

If you’re approved for a heart transplant, you’ll be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list.

Wait times vary widely and can be several months long. You’ll be matched with a donor based on your blood and tissue types, heart size, and time spent waiting.

While you wait, you may need other treatments to help keep your heart working. UI Health Care is the only health system in Iowa to offer the full range of these treatments:

  • Ventricular assist devices (VADs), which help pump blood when your heart’s ventricles (lower chambers) aren’t working properly
  • Total artificial heart (TAH), a surgically implanted device that takes over for both of your heart’s ventricles
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), during which your blood is pumped into a machine, mixed with oxygen, and pumped back into your body

Transplant surgery

When it’s time for your transplant, the most experienced heart surgeons in Iowa will perform your procedure. Here’s what you can expect:

  • You’ll get a call from one of our transplant coordinators when a heart becomes available. You’ll need to get to UI Hospitals & Clinics within four to five hours.
  • The procedure will take four to six hours.
  • You’ll stay in the hospital for 10 to 20 days so that you can recover and make sure your new heart is working well.
  • Immediately after your transplant, you’ll start taking medications to make sure your immune system doesn’t attack your new heart. These are called antirejection medications and you’ll take them for the rest of your life.

Follow-up care

You’ll have your first follow-up appointment with our team a week after you go home from the hospital. For six months, we’ll see you once a month. Then, we’ll see you quarterly, and after one to two years we’ll see you annually. We’ll continue to work with you and your primary care provider to help you:

  • Manage your medications and any side effects you experience
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Lower your risk of cancer, which can be higher for transplant recipients
  • Prevent heart disease and high blood pressure

Who can benefit from heart transplant?

You may be a good candidate for heart transplant if you:

  • Have been diagnosed with advanced heart failure
  • Are not getting better with other treatments
  • Are well enough to have transplant surgery
  • Will be able to take immunosuppressant medications for the rest of your life to prevent your body from rejecting your new heart

Conditions that can cause heart failure

Advanced heart failure can be caused by a variety of heart conditions, including:

Alternatives to heart transplant

If you have advanced heart failure but aren’t a candidate for heart transplant, you may benefit from a ventricular assist device (VAD). In some people with heart failure, VADs greatly improve symptoms and quality of life.

VADs—mechanical pumps—are sometimes implanted temporarily to keep the heart working before a transplant. But they can also be used as a destination therapy, meaning they’re implanted permanently.

We have earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for the high quality of our destination therapy VAD program.

Support for heart transplants patients

We help you cope with the emotional and everyday stressors that can come with heart failure and heart transplant.

Lifelong education and support

From the beginning of the process until long after your transplant, there will be a lot to learn and remember. We provide educational materials, detailed instructions, and a record book to keep track of your vital signs and medications.

And if you ever have any questions, we’re only a phone call away. We’ll provide you with contact information so you can reach our team anytime, day or night. We’re always happy to discuss any of your questions or concerns.

Financial counseling and help with insurance

Our program includes financial coordinators who will help you work with your health insurance provider. Insurance benefits related to heart transplant can be complex, and we’re here to advise you.

Organ transplant support group

UI Health Care hosts a support group for organ transplant recipients and their loved ones. Meetings usually take place four times a year on Tuesday evenings at the Coralville Public Library in Iowa City.

Email emily-mathews@uiowa.edu to request upcoming meeting dates.

Staying in Iowa City

During your transplant and recovery, your loved ones may want to spend time in Iowa City to be with you. While they’re here, they’ll have plenty of dining, lodging, and shopping options within minutes of the hospital.

Learn more about amenities on and near campus.

Not sure whether you qualify for heart transplant?

If you've been diagnosed with advanced heart failure, we can help. The heart transplant team will work with you to determine whether you might benefit from heart transplant—or another treatment.

Care Team

Every member of our multidisciplinary team specializes in transplant care. Each one brings years of expertise to your transplant case.

VAD coordinators

  • Denicia Cole, RN, BSN
  • Carol Johnson, RN, BSN

Financial Coordinators

  • Israel A. Cuevas
  • Becky Hix