Living Donation

Heart Transplant Waiting List

Once your UPMC transplant coordinator calls to let you know that you're on the heart transplant waiting list, the next phase of the process begins.

Contracted by the U.S. Government, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) decides the criteria for organ allocation and ensures that every transplant hospital in the U.S. meets their requirements.

Placement on the heart transplant waiting list is according to priority.

The priority criteria are as follows:

  • Status 1a = highest priority. Most often, these people are in an intensive care unit to support their heart while on the waiting list.
  • Status 1b. This group of heart transplant candidates is usually at home, but may be receiving intravenous fluids and medications to support their heart.
  • Status 2. This group includes all others who can reasonably remain stable at home.

How Long Is the Wait for a Heart Transplant?

All wait times vary because of factors such as:

  • Blood type
  • Geographic area
  • A shortage of donor hearts

Staying Close to the Hospital

While you're on the heart transplant waiting list, you may need to relocate to Pittsburgh.

We ask that you live within four hours of UPMC so you can arrive quickly to have your transplant, when a heart becomes available. Family House provides an affordable "home away from home" for heart transplant patients and their families.

Follow-up tests and classes

Once on the waiting list for a heart transplant, you can expect the following:

  • Your transplant cardiologist will schedule follow-up appointments based on your personal needs.
  • You will see your transplant surgeon once a year.
  • You will also be eligible to attend classes at UPMC every other month. You may find it helpful to learn more from transplant team members or social workers during this time.

While You Wait for a Donor Heart

Maintaining your health as much as possible is important during the critical waiting phase.

While you wait for a donor heart, we'll manage your condition through our Advanced Heart Failure Center or Artificial Heart Program.

Some heart transplant recipients may need a ventricular assist device (VAD) as a bridge to transplant.

Doctors may implant this device in people with debilitating heart failure whose size or blood type mean they are likely to face a longer wait time for a donor heart.

The VAD:

  • Pumps blood for you when you have a weakened heart muscle.
  • Allows you to live a healthier, more active life while you wait for transplant.
  • May also lengthen your time on the waitlist. You must recover from the implant surgery before you can undergo a heart transplant.

Becoming Inactive on the Waiting List

Surgeons must transplant a donor heart within a specific amount of time. You will always need to be within four hours of the hospital while you're on the heart transplant waiting list.

Please inform your transplant coordinator of any travel that will take you outside the travel time window.

If you must travel, we may place you in an "inactive status" on the list.

Other reasons for an inactive status include:

  • Needing further testing.
  • Having certain health problems that might jeopardize the transplant.
  • Not adhering to the treatment plan.

When a Heart Becomes Available

When a donor heart is identified and assigned to you, your transplant coordinator will contact you with instructions and let you know what will happen next.

While you travel to the hospital, the UPMC heart transplant team continues to evaluate the donor heart. When you arrive at the hospital we will begin to prepare you for surgery.

If the surgical team finds that the organ isn't right for you, we will send you home.

After Your Heart Transplant

Most heart transplant recipients spend 2-3 days in the transplant intensive care unit (ICU) before moving to a special transplant floor.

Once we discharge you from the hospital, you will need to stay in the Pittsburgh area for a while for follow-up appointments. You will have regular check-ins with your heart transplant team and further testing.

After you return home, you will need to come back to UPMC for check-ups according to your transplant team's schedule.

Even after you've returned to daily living, we will remain in contact with you in case you have any side effects, issues, or questions after your heart transplant.

Fill out a Contact Form to schedule an appointment with the UPMC Heart Transplant Program, or to refer a patient.