Three-quarters of people survive heart transplant for at least five years, study says

Long waiting lists for procedure mean risk of dying greater for those for whom donor organs are unavailable.

Brian P. Dunleavy
Five-year survival rates for heart transplant recipients are higher than 75 percent, new study estimates. File photo by skeeze/Pixabay
Five-year survival rates for heart transplant recipients are higher than 75 percent, new study estimates. File photo by skeeze/Pixabay

Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Perhaps it goes without saying that heart transplant surgery saves lives.

Now, there's a better idea of just how many people benefit from the complex, and risky, procedure, thanks to new findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that show roughly three-quarters of heart transplant recipients survive five years after the procedure.


The authors reviewed data from 113 U.S. hospitals and nearly 30,000 heart transplant candidates, seeking differences in survival between high and low benefit heart centers -- depending on level of care they provide -- and found patients had roughly similar chances for survival at either one.

"All centers had significant positive survival benefit in our study and post-transplant outcomes were pretty much equal," study co-author William F. Parker, an instructor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Chicago, told UPI.

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The team reviewed the cases of 29,199 transplant candidates, of which 19,815 ultimately underwent the procedure. The mean age of patients included in the analysis was 52 years.

Notably, among heart transplant recipients, 5,389, or 27 percent, died or underwent a second transplant procedure during the study period. Meanwhile, of the 9,384 candidates who did not receive a heart transplant, 5,669, or 60 percent, died -- 2,644 of them while still on the waiting list for a donor heart.

"Hearts are scarce and hundreds of patients die on the waiting list each year, so giving hearts to the sickest candidates is very important," Parker noted. It is also mandated by federal law.

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Overall, for transplant recipients, estimated five-year survival was 77 percent, compared to 33 percent for those who did not receive new hearts.

According to Parker, the authors "actually found remarkably little variation in post-transplant survival of recipients between centers." However, not all of the hospitals in the study were the same. Some, the authors explained, were willing to perform transplants on patients who are sicker -- and more likely to die without a new heart -- than others.

There "is large variability in what kinds of candidates were getting transplanted, as measured by their estimated survival without a transplant," Parker explained. "The main center characteristic of high-benefit centers that we identified in this paper is the willingness to transplant sicker candidates -- patients with a high chance of dying without a heart. High-benefit centers would be less likely to transplant a more stable patient who could potentially wait longer for a new heart. These centers are transplanting much sicker candidates than others and are effectively saving more lives with scarce resources than the low-benefit centers."

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