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What to Expect Before and After Your Heart Transplant Surgery at Tampa General Hospital

Elderly couple embracesWhen a suitable heart becomes available for your transplant surgery, we will call and tell you to come to Tampa General Hospital. Because this call can come at any time – even late at night – it’s important that you always answer your phone, and that your transplant coordinator has phone numbers for your friends and family in case we cannot reach you directly. When you receive this call, it’s extremely important that you:

  • Update your transplant coordinator on your current health status.
  • Listen carefully to the instructions for coming to TGH, and also make sure that you have the donor coordinator’s name and the hospital’s phone number.
  • Ask whether or not you need to immediately discontinue any of your medications – including insulin, if you are diabetic.
  • Immediately stop eating and drinking. (If you have recently taken insulin, ask your transplant coordinator for further directions.)
  • Pack a bag with your transplant handbook, insurance documents, a fully charged cell phone, and any other items you will need for your hospital stay.
  • Have a friend or family member drive you to the hospital as soon as possible.

When you arrive at TGH, you must check in at the admissions department, where you will be directed to your room. After being admitted, you will receive several blood tests and be prepped for your heart transplant surgery.  The surgery itself can take between three and six hours; when it’s finished, you will be taken to the cardiothoracic intensive care unit (CTICU) for monitored recovery. Your family can stay with you until you are sent to the operating room; at that point, they will be directed to the cardiac surgery waiting room. Your family will receive updates from the surgical staff throughout your surgery, and your heart transplant surgeons will meet them in the waiting room when the procedure is finished. When you wake up after your heart transplant surgery, you can expect to see several tubes in your body, including:

  • cardiothoracic referral form buttonA breathing tube
  • Chest tubes (used to drain fluid from your chest)
  • A Foley catheter (used to drain urine from your bladder)
  • Intravenous (IV) lines (used to administer medicines, fluids, and blood transfusions, and to take blood samples and check fluid pressures in the body)
  • A nasogastric tube (used to keep your stomach empty so that you do not experience nausea)

Your transplant team will give you medicine to control pain and help you relax. Immediate family may visit during limited visiting hours. Once you are stable and your breathing tube has been removed, you will be moved to a private room in the transplant unit, where a family member may stay with you overnight as long as no medical reasons prohibit it. Visitors to the transplant unit must be over 12 years old due to the high risk of infection, although we can facilitate visits with children in other wings of the hospital. After your heart transplant surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for seven to 14 days, though a longer stay could be required if you were extremely ill before the operation or if any complications develop. During this time, you will have regular blood tests, X-rays, and visits with your surgeon and cardiology team. You’ll also attend several educational sessions, where you and a support partner will learn:

  • How and when to take your medications
  • What nutritional guidelines you’ll need to follow
  • How to keep a transplant log with your lab values, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar (you’ll need to bring this log with you to all post-surgery clinic visits)

Lastly, we’ll perform an initial biopsy to check for organ rejection. If the results are satisfactory, you will be discharged and sent home with a schedule for future follow-up visits, which will help us ensure that you’re recovering from your heart transplant surgery as intended.

Contact Tampa General Hospital for more information about our heart transplant program. Call 1-800-505-7769 (press 1 for the heart transplant program and ask for the referral coordinator), or call the coordinator directly at (813) 844-4088.