Although post-transplant expectations vary depending on the type of organ, there are still several general things you can expect from an organ or tissue transplant. The first three months following transplantation are the most difficult. This is because the body is adjusting to the “new” organ and all the medications needed to maintain its health.
The transplant team carefully prepares each patient for discharge so that they are able to care for themselves, with some minor restrictions. The majority of patients are hospitalized for seven to 10 days after their organ transplant. Afterwards, they generally recuperate at home and typically return to their normal lives in about three months. Certain patients will require light-duty assignments temporarily as they reacclimate to the workplace. Unless there are complications, disability is usually not granted for more than six months after an organ transplant. From the start of the transplant process, patients should consider their long-term employment goals so that they can rejoin the workforce in a timely manner and avoid lapse in health insurance coverage.
Can my organ disease reemerge?
Certain organ diseases may reappear in the new organ (e.g. hepatitis C), however in cases where there is a risk of recurrence the transplant team will monitor you very closely to help prevent any complications.
To mitigate risk, organ recipients are put on several medications after their organ transplant: immunosuppressants, antibiotics, and medication to treat any side effects that may arise. The transplant team will monitor the recipient closely and regulate medication as needed. Patients returning home after transplantation will typically take seven to 10 different types of medicine. As the patient heals, dosages and the number of medications will be reduced over time. However, in virtually all cases, patients will be taking immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives. It is vital that these medications are taken as prescribed, in the proper amounts, and at the specified times. Missing medication doses or discontinuing them on one’s own may lead to rejection and organ failure.
Many medications have side effects. Post-transplant medication side effects typically include: elevated blood pressure, changes in mood, hair loss/growth, elevated blood sugar, bone and muscle weakness, kidney dysfunction, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache. Most patients will experience side effects initially, but these often diminish over time as dosages are reduced. Although side effects can be troublesome, medication should never be discontinued without the knowledge and agreement of the transplant team. When side effects are severe, the array of medicines can often be adjusted to improve their tolerance.
(If you are an organ recipient, contact your transplant team to learn more about the specifics of your post-transplant care and expectations.)
-Vlad Elizarov, Alexander’s Hope Intern