Heart Institute

Heart Transplant: Frequently Asked Questions by Parents and Families


Get answers to commonly asked questions about the heart transplant process at Children's Hospital Colorado.

Who is part of my child's heart transplant team?

What are the criteria to determine if my child is eligible for a heart transplant?

Under what situations will a heart transplant not be done?

Do we need to relocate to the Denver metro area?

Why do we have to live near the hospital?

When a new heart is available, under what circumstances might the organ be declined to my child?

What happens after the transplant?

How do I contact Children's Hospital Colorado Colorado transplant team?

Who is part of my child's heart transplant team?

You will meet many members of your child's transplant team. Because of the complex nature of a heart transplant, an entire team of pediatric heart experts is dedicated to your child before, during and after the transplant. Transplant surgeons, doctors, pharmacists and social workers are on call and available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for transplant services. We also enlist a team of psychologists, dieticians, pathologists and exercise physiologists. In addition, your family will be assigned a transplant coordinator to help make the process easier for your family.

What are the criteria to determine if my child is eligible for a heart transplant?

Medical criteria
The transplant doctors will thoroughly review your child's information and may recommend additional testing before approving your child for possible transplant. During the medical evaluation, we will draw blood to determine your child's blood type, infection status, and to see if his or her other organs are functioning properly. We will do an echocardiogram to look at the heart function and structure. We may also do a cardiac catheterization to measure the pressures inside the heart.

Psychosocial criteria
All families will have a psychosocial evaluation by a social worker to help anticipate any problems that may develop during the waiting period or after transplant. The social worker will provide resources to help your family understand the psychosocial and financial stresses related to transplant. Children 10 years and older will have a psychological evaluation by a psychiatrist to assess any mental health problems.

Financial criteria
After all of your child's medical history and transplant information is sent to your insurance company, Children's Hospital Colorado will wait for approval from your insurance company before your child can be listed as a possible transplant recipient. Insurance companies sometimes require further information or testing before they approve a transplant.

The approval process
The heart transplant team meets on a weekly basis to discuss potential candidates. The full approval process can take days to weeks, depending on each individual child.

Learn more about how the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) can extend the life of children awaiting heart transplantation.

Under what situations will a heart transplant not be done?

Patients with the following symptoms or conditions will not be considered transplant candidates and will not qualify for transplant:

  • Active sepsis unresponsive to treatment
  • Irreversible renal or hepatic failure
  • Immunodeficiency, including HIV-positive patients
  • Active malignancy
  • Inability to undergo cardiopulmonary bypass (i.e. small size, vascular access, etc.)
  • Metabolic instability not likely to be corrected by transplantation
  • Irreversible lung disease

Do we need to relocate to the Denver metro area?

Any child on the Denver heart transplant waiting list must live within one hour of Children's Hospital Colorado. If you live further away and have to relocate to the Denver metro area, our social workers can help you find affordable housing. You and your child must remain less than one hour from the hospital for at least three months after the transplant.

Why do we have to live near the hospital?

The chance of a body rejecting a new organ is highest during the first three months, and we monitor your child closely during this time. If, at the end of three months, your child has not experienced an episode of rejection, then you may return to your hometown. With any episode of rejection your child may be required to stay in the Denver area until he or she is medically stable.

When a new heart is available, under what circumstances might the organ be declined to my child?

  • The inability to contact the potential candidate (the patient and family are responsible for notifying our transplant office with any changes in contact information);
  • The potential candidate has a severe illness or active infection and cannot go to surgery;
  • A change in financial reimbursement (the patient and family are responsible for notifying the transplant office with any changes to insurance coverage);
  • Unacceptable donor quality (poor heart function, infectious disease, abnormal heart anatomy/age/size, or high-risk behaviors);
  • Any other medical condition which, in the opinion of the transplant team, may increase the risk of surgical complications for the recipient.

What happens after the transplant?

Rejection and infection are the most common complications following a heart transplant. The first 24 to 48 hours after transplant can be difficult. Most complications can be taken care of medically, but a trip back to the operating room is a possibility and would be fully discussed with you at that time.

What are the signs of organ rejection post-transplant?

  • Low-grade fever
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability/fussiness
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Puffiness in the hands, face, and/or feet
  • Chest pain or palpitations (racing or skipped heart beat)

How do I contact Children's Hospital Colorado Colorado transplant team?

Please call the transplant assistant at (720) 777-3218 or call the main Cardiology number at (720) 777-6820 and ask for the transplant team.

Learn more about the Heart Transplant Program.