Heart Transplantation

Heart transplantation surgery involves removing a diseased heart and replacing it with a healthy heart from an organ donor.

In most cases, the reason for heart transplantation is advanced heart failure caused by:

  • Heart disease
  • Viral infection
  • Inherited conditions

Patients with advanced heart failure experience an increase in the frequency or severity of symptoms despite treatment. These symptoms can include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen legs, feet or abdomen

Patients with advanced heart failure may have trouble with normal daily activities like eating, bathing and grooming.

Many patients with heart failure manage their symptoms by:

  • Limiting their fluid and salt intake
  • Taking medicines
  • Receiving a pacemaker or defibrillator
  • Having heart surgery

Sometimes, however, a patient's heart failure may still get worse. These patients may benefit from a heart transplant. Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons examine these patients to evaluate if a heart transplant would help them. After a comprehensive evaluation and testing, patients that will benefit from a heart transplant are registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This network will help find them a donor heart.

Experts in Heart Transplantation

The Northwestern Medicine Heart Transplantation Program has extensive experience with heart transplantation. This collaborative, multi-disciplinary team brings together a full range of advanced heart failure expertise to benefit heart transplant patients. The Northwestern Medicine Heart Transplantation Team includes specially trained:

  • Cardiologists
  • Cardiac surgeons
  • Advanced practice providers
  • Psychologists
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Dieticians
  • Pharmacists

The Northwestern Medicine Heart Transplantation Program is a Medicare-approved program, a Blue Distinction® Center for Transplants and an OptumHealthSM Transplant Center of Excellence.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital was the first program in Illinois to use the TransMedics Organ Care System (OCS™) for heart transplantation. This innovative system increases the number of available hearts for transplant by up to 30% in the United States.

Meet the Heart Transplant Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.
Meet the Team
Downtown Chicago

Related Resources


  • Coalition on Donation: The organization promotes organ donation and provides education about it.
  • MedlinePlus: This is a trusted source that covers all aspects of organ donation and provides easy access to medical journal articles, extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials and the latest health news.
  • Mended Hearts Chicago: Mended Hearts is a national nonprofit organization that has offered the gift of hope to heart disease patients, their families and caregivers for 60 years.
  • National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking this initiative to ease the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors by building a national community of organ sharing.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): Through the UNOS Organ Center, organ donors are matched to waiting recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Through its policies, UNOS ensures that all patients have a fair chance at receiving the organ they need—regardless of age, sex, race, lifestyle, religion, or financial or social status. UNOS members include every transplant program, organ procurement organization and tissue typing laboratory in the United States.
  • Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network: Website of the not-for-profit organ procurement organization that works with hospitals and donor families in the northern three-fourths of Illinois and northwest Indiana. The organization is responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for medical transplantation in the service area, as well as for professional and public education on organ and tissue donation.
  • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN): OPTN is a unique public-private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system. Its goals are to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation and the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
  • Transplant Living: This is the United Network for Organ Sharing patient education site for all transplant patients.
  • TransWeb: TransWeb's mission is to provide information about donation and transplantation to the general public to promote organ donation and to provide transplant families with information dealing specifically with transplant issues.
  • U.S. Transplant—Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR): The SRTR supports the ongoing evaluation of the scientific and clinical status of solid organ transplantation in the United States.

Support groups

The following associations have support groups available to help patients and their families through a transplantation: