The Pediatric Heart Transplant Process

The pediatric heart transplant team at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital knows that uncertain and unfamiliar situations can be even more stressful for families navigating complex medical conditions.  We are committed to helping your family understand as much as possible about the transplant process.  Our transplant nurses, transplant coordinators, social workers and all our team members are here for you and happy to answer any questions along the way.

Heart transplant evaluation

Candidates for heart transplant require a comprehensive evaluation. The process includes patient education, medical records review, patient examination and often additional medical testing. The case is then reviewed by our multidisciplinary transplant team and a decision about the child’s suitability for an organ is made.

Since routine medical care must be up-to-date prior to transplantation, it’s recommended that children are current with their routine health care prior to their evaluations. Examples of routine health care include dental exams and cleaning, immunizations (including PPD, pneumovax, and influenza vaccine).

At the follow-up evaluation, the child and family meet with several members of the pediatric transplant team, including a transplant coordinator, cardiologists, transplant surgeon, social worker and a nurse educator. The evaluation appointment involves a variety of tests, such as blood tests and a chest x-ray. Each child and/or family must attend the patient education class on transplantation.

Donor organ listing

Children who are eligible for a heart transplant are placed on a waiting list for a donor heart. This waiting list is part of a national allocation system for donor organs run by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. A number of criteria will be used to match donor hearts with transplant patients, including urgency of need for a donor heart, blood type, size, and time on the list.

Transplant surgery

The donor heart is kept cool and preserved in a special saline solution during transport.

The transplant procedure itself involves opening the patient’s chest and placing him or her on a heart-lung bypass machine to do the heart’s work while the diseased heart is removed and the donor heart is sewn into place.

The transplant surgery can take as few as five hours, or longer for complex patients or patients who have had previous transplants.

Transplant patients generally stay in the hospital 10 days to two weeks after transplant.

Children can typically return to school 6-8 weeks after transplantation. A dedicated transplant social worker will help kids with home schooling until they can go back to school full time.

Post-transplant care

Our Post-Transplant Coordinators coordinate all post-transplant care management, including scheduling follow-up biopsies and blood work and any other needs the child or family might have.

We also follow pediatric heart transplant patients who have relocated to Michigan, managing all their post-transplant care. Currently we follow more than 300 adult and pediatric patients.

Each summer we provide children 7-15 years of age, who have had an organ transplant, an exciting camping experience called Camp Michitanki.

Transitioning to adult care

Our team is dedicated to helping children become healthy, functioning adults. To ensure they are able to care for themselves as they get older and go on to live independent lives, we access each child carefully to determine their ability for self-care. We begin that transition process very early – before they are teenagers – so they can administer their own medications, call for their own prescriptions and more. It takes a lot of supervised transition education before most kids can provide their own self-care, so the earlier we start the process, the better their chances for success.

Appointments & Information

To make an appointment with our heart transplant team, or to learn more about the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Center, please call 734-764-5176.

For detailed information about what pediatric heart transplant patients can expect throughout the transplant journey, check out our detailed Heart Transplant Patient Guide.