Although bridging to cardiac transplantation has become a therapeutic option for transplant candidates whose condition deteriorates while they are awaiting a donor heart, short-term efficacy has not been proved and long-term survival has not been reported. We retrospectively reviewed data on 44 patients who had circulatory assist devices placed as a bridge to transplantation between May 1985 and April 1993. The 35 male and nine female patients ranged in age from 12 to 65 years (mean 43.8 years). Thirty-one patients were supported with 32 Thoratec (18 left ventricular, 14 biventricular), 11 Novacor, and two Jarvik J-7-70 devices. The duration of device support was from 4 hours to 440 days (mean 45.5 days). Fifteen patients did not receive a donor organ because of infection (ten patients), renal failure (five patients), bleeding (nine patients), cerebrovascular accident (three patients), ventricular fibrillation (one patient), and right heart failure (one patient), and all died. Two patients were weaned from support and survived without transplantation. Twenty-seven patients underwent transplantation, and 26 survived (96%). Overall survival was 64% (28/44). Duration of survival ranged from 2 to 96 months (mean 35 months). Among the 28 hospital survivors, there were four late deaths (all transplant recipients) at 3, 6, 14, and 68 months. Posttransplantation actuarial survivals at 1, 5, and 8 years are 88%, 83%, and 66%. Twenty-three of the 24 patients presently alive are in New York Heart Association functional class I. These data demonstrate the short- and long-term efficacy of bridging to transplantation with circulatory support devices. The excellent survival and full functional recovery of patients undergoing transplantation ensure that donor organs are not being "wasted" on the sickest patients.