Because of the lack of available hearts, it's rarely possible to have a heart transplant as soon as it's needed, so you'll usually be placed on a waiting list.
It may be several months, or possibly years, before a donor heart of the right size and blood group becomes available.
Many people are well enough to stay at home until a heart becomes available, although some people will need to remain in hospital.
The transplant centre can offer support, guidance and information while you wait for a suitable donor to be found. They will be fully aware that many people find this a frustrating and frightening experience.
Waiting for a suitable donor
While waiting for a donated heart to become available, it's important to stay as healthy as possible by:
The transplant centre will need to be able to contact you at short notice, so you should inform staff if your contact details change.
You should also let staff know if your health changes – for example, if you develop an infection.
Prepare an overnight bag and make arrangements with your friends, family and employer so you can go to the transplant centre as soon as a donor heart becomes available.
Coping with being on the waiting list
Living with a serious heart condition can be strenuous enough, and the added anxiety of waiting for a heart to become available can make the situation even more difficult.
This can have an effect on both your physical and mental health. Contact your GP or the transplant centre for advice if you're struggling to cope emotionally with the demands of waiting for a transplant.
You may also find it useful to contact a support group, such as the British Heart Foundation or Little Hearts Matter, a charity for children with heart defects.
Getting the call
When a suitable donor heart is found, the transplant centre will contact you and ask you to go to the centre.
When you hear from the transplant centre:
- do not eat or drink anything
- take all current medicines with you
- take a bag of clothes and essentials for your hospital stay
At the transplant centre, you'll be reassessed quickly to make sure no new medical conditions have developed.
When the medical team has confirmed that you and the donor heart are suitable, you will be given a general anaesthetic.
The procedure must be carried out as quickly as possible to have the best chance of success.
Read more about what happens during a heart transplant.
Heart transplants are carried out at a specialist heart transplant centre.
UK heart transplant centres are located in: