The Process

  1. Diagnosis - Many diseases can destroy organs or other necessary body parts. More than half of heart transplant patients were normal and healthy until they caught a viral infection (a cold or flu) that attacked the heart. Vital organs, such as hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys, must be replaced for a person to live. Tissues, including skin and heart valves, are also lifesaving.
  2. Referral/Evaluation - When a doctor decides a patient needs a transplant, that patient goes to a transplant center to be evaluated. Patients are put on the national transplant waiting list if they meet medical, psychological and financial requirements. Medicare pays for all kidney transplants and some heart and liver transplants. Some, but not all, insurance companies pay for transplants.
  3. Waiting List - Depending on how sick a patient is, he or she may have to wait from one day to many years for an organ. Patients who need kidney transplants generally can be kept alive with a dialysis machine. Medication and heart-assist pumps can help patients waiting for transplants, but those who need a heart, lung or liver will eventually die without a transplant.
  4. The Call - When a donor's organ matches the type needed by a patient waiting for a transplant, the transplant surgeon is called. The surgeon makes sure that the patient is in good condition for surgery. If so, the surgeon accepts the organ for the patient and the patient goes to the hospital/transplant center immediately.
  5. Transplant - When a patient is approved for surgery, the process to prepare his/her body for the transplant may begin at the same time as the donor's surgery. This saves time because donated organs cannot survive very long outside of the body.
  6. Recovery and Survival - Some patients go home within days after receiving a transplant. Others stay longer. Because the human body naturally attacks newly transplanted organs, patients must take drugs to prevent their bodies from rejecting or destroying their new organs. Cyclosporine and prednisone are examples of anti-rejection drugs. Most recipients live normal and active lives after transplants; however, they must take medicine and have regular checkups for the rest of their lives.
  7. Follow Up - A few weeks after the funeral, LifeGift sends a letter to the family outlining which tissues were recovered and thanking the family for the donation.

Download the UNOS brochure: What Every Patient Needs to Know

Side Body: 

For 28 years, Curley Mae Williams taught math and language arts to students with special needs. After retiring, she discovered she needed a new heart to live. Curley Mae got her second chance in 2008, and has used it to continue her life of service. Curley Mae volunteers with LifeGift and Houston Methodist Hospital whenever and wherever she can.

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