What Is Heart Transplantation?

Heart transplantation surgery involves the removal of a diseased heart and replacing it with a healthy heart from an organ donor. In most cases, the reason for a heart transplant is severe heart failure caused by heart disease, viral infections or inherited conditions.

Northwestern Medicine heart transplantations are performed by highly skilled cardiac surgeons with extensive experience in this specialty.

Many patients with heart failure may feel symptom relief by limiting their fluid and salt intake, taking medicines prescribed by their physicians and/or having heart surgery or the placement of pacemakers and defibrillators.

Sometimes, however, a patient's heart failure worsens despite medical and/or surgical therapy. Patients with worsening heart failure experience symptoms—such as difficulty breathing, fatigue or swelling—that increase in frequency or severity. Their ability to perform normal daily activities like eating, bathing and grooming, decreases despite medications or heart surgery.

After extensive discussion with their cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, patients who are good candidates for heart transplantation are registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) to find a donor heart.

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 percent in the United States.

While there are risks, heart transplant has a good success rate. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recent survival rates nationally are about 85 percent at one year after surgery.

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: