UCLA MEDICAL Center annually evaluates 150 to 200 heart transplant candidates. "Of those," says Dr. Lynne Warner Stevenson, medical director for UCLA's heart transplant program, "only about 40 actually get a new heart." Some are turned away because they have more than six months to live and therefore aren't considered "end stage" heart patients, or because they're too ill (other organs are failing as well).
Potential heart transplant patients' cases are referred to the program by their cardiologists. The cases are then reviewed by cardiologists at UCLA and presented to a committee that meets once a week. In considering each one, Dr. Hillel Laks and Dr. Davis Drinkwater, the two transplant surgeons, are joined by six cardiologists, two psychiatrists, two transplant coordinators, pulmonary and renal specialists, a social worker and an infectious disease consultant.
The most common causes for need are heart failure brought on by coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy, a disorder usually caused by viral damage to the heart. The average age of transplant recipients at UCLA is about 45. The youngest transplant patient was 7, and the cutoff is 60, with a few exceptions made up to age 65. Once accepted, most patients are put on beepers and sent home to wait for the call that a donor heart is available.