Dr. Mehmet Oz has performed hundreds of heart transplants from his hospital, New York Presbyterian, in Manhattan. Here, he sheds some light on the questions and concerns many have about heart transplants, and also talks about the urgent need for more donors.
Q: When is a heart transplant necessary?
A: A transplant is necessary when your heart has failed so badly that it's no longer able to pump blood throughout your body.
Q: Have you yourself performed heart transplant surgeries?
A: Yes. Hundreds.
Q: How long is the typical wait for a new heart?
A: It all depends on how sick you are. Those who are dying in the hospital, the sickest of the sick, have priority over those who can wait at home for a new heart. But it's a gamble. That person waiting at home could die suddenly as well. The problem is there are so few hearts to give. There are about 2,200 hearts donated every year, but that number has not gone up in over a decade. There's a scarcity in donors. It's a painful but true reality.
Q: What goes in to finding the perfect match?
A: The match is based on blood type. There are four blood types—O, A, B, and AB. If your blood type is AB, you're what's known as the "universal recipient," so you can receive a heart from a donor of any blood type. If your type is O, you're what's known as the "universal donor," so you can give a heart to anyone regardless of blood type. Also, the heart of the donor has to be close enough to your own heart's size, so the donor has to be within 20 percent of the weight of the recipient. But the problem isn't with blood type and weight; the problem is there are not enough donors.
Q: Why the reluctance to donate?
A: I don't think people see it from the perspective of the recipient. They don't realize that they might be in a car accident one day and that they could end up waiting for a heart. And that's what I wanted to do with Transplant!—flip it around and get people to appreciate being one of the recipients.
There are also ideas people get that prevent them from becoming donors. Like they think they won't be saved if a doctor sees that they're a donor. But that's not the case. And I think it's important for people to see the raw emotion of what it's like to wait for a heart.