After Your Organ Transplant: Home Care, Rejection and Infection

After your transplant, you will be on anti-rejection medications for the rest of your life. The purpose of these medications is to prevent your body from rejecting your new organ(s).

After Organ Transplant

Even though these medications prevent rejection of your organ(s), they also increase your risk of infections. It is important that you understand that these medications have many side effects. Some potential side effects may include high blood pressure, kidney and liver problems, mood changes, nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, and trembling hands.

Some people have notices increased hair growth over their entire body and others have had hair loss. These medications can also cause stomach ulcers, bleeding problems or bruising and diabetes. You will also be on many other medications aimed at preventing some medication side effects and preventing common infections.

Transplant Rejection and Infection

Even with the medicines, you will still be at risk for rejection and infection.

Experience has been that about 85% of the lung transplant patients at the transplant hospital will have an infection and/or rejection episode after their transplant. Rejection can happen at any time after your surgery. It’s important to know that even though rejection may occur, most episodes can be treated with medications.

It is very important for you to monitor your lung function daily after transplant. Success in treating rejection is related to how early it is found. Some patients may experience chronic rejections. This means that your body continues to reject your new organ(s). About 50% of all lung patients living more than 3 years will have some degree of chronic rejection.

Infection can also happen after transplant. The most common types of infections include viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. These infections are treatable, but may require you to go to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics.

The best way to prevent infection is by washing your hands frequently – especially after working outdoors, before and after meals, upon returning home from outings, and after going to the bathroom. This is especially important if anyone might have a cold, sore throat, cough, or chicken pox.

After your transplant, you will need to wear a special mask in poorly ventilated areas or when you are in a hospital or clinic. Examples of poorly ventilated areas are in a barn, when cleaning a cat’s litter box, and if working with mulch piles or soil. We encourage you to use your best judgement as to when to wear a mask.

Learning to Care for Yourself at Home

After your transplant, you will be in the hospital for about 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the type of transplant. During this time, you will be learning your new medicines, breathing treatments, how to take your own blood pressure and spirometries (depending on type of transplant). You will also learn how to care for yourself after you leave the hospital. At times, this may be overwhelming, but with time and practice it becomes easier.

Once you leave the hospital, you will begin to care for yourself. Here are some things you should know:

  • For the first several weeks after you go home you may need help with daily activities.
  • You will not be able to drive or lift more than 20 pounds for at least 6 weeks after surgery.
  • You will not be able to do push/pull activities such as vacuuming, sweeping, or opening garage doors. We recommend that someone be available to you to help with these.
  • Breathing treatments at first will be very intense and may be every 4 hours for up to one hour at a time. As time goes on, your breathing treatments and therapies will decrease.

At discharge, you and your family member will need to stay near the hospital for about 1-2 weeks. This will ease the transition of returning to your home. This is an excellent time for you to adjust to managing on your own as well as a good time to think about and ask any questions that you may have. You will continue rehabilitation and have frequent lab draws at the outpatient laboratory.

This transition period will be difficult and require hard work, but will be worth it in the end as you build your confidence and strength toward a new lifestyle. You will be scheduled to return to the Transplant Clinic at 6 weeks, 3, 6, 12, 15, 18, 24 months and then yearly. Additional visits may be needed, depending on rejection and infection episodes. You will usually have a bronchoscopy at the same time as transplant clinic visits.

If you need help in making arrangements for housing, the hospital’s housing coordinator and social worker can help. Most insurance companies do not cover the cost of a hotel and meals.

(Reference: University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority.

Image courtesy of Matcha.

After her husband received a double-lung (bilateral) transplant in 2004, Shannon founded the Angel Cove Organ Donation Awareness Shop, which provides awareness t-shirts and gifts products for transplant recipients, living organ donors and donor families - giving 100% of the profits to help heart and lung transplant recipients with medical costs. Shannon lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her wonderful husband and two chocolate Labrador Retrievers.

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