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Rehab and Recovery

You will be in the hospital for about 10 days after transplant surgery if all goes well. If it doesn't, you could be there much longer. You will have your first heart biopsy before being discharged from the hospital. This is to spot rejection of the donor heart by your body's defenses. While you are in the hospital, heart biopsies will be done once a week.
     You must supply your transplant coordinator with your pharmacy information, so he can order discharge meds. You will learn about the transplant center's transplant support group, which you should attend whenever you are able. They usually meet at least once a month. You need to alert all family members that they are not to visit you at home if they have a cold or flu, a cough or sneezing problem. Your house should be thoroughly cleaned while you are recovering from surgery.

You will be taught about your meds now, which are a part of your life forever. You may be able to stop one or two down the road, but you will be on meds to prevent rejection for the rest of your life. You will learn what each pill looks like and you will be required to memorize your meds schedule. You will be instructed in what to watch for regarding drug side effects and signs of rejection.
     You will be given some phone numbers you need to carry at all times. These are numbers you will call if you are in distress from drug side effects, acute rejection, infection, or find yourself in a medical emergency related to your transplant. As much as you are able, you will also be in physical therapy each day until you leave the hospital.
     A dietician will spend some time with you making sure you understand your dietary restrictions and requirements. You need to follow a low-sodium, low-fat diet. If you are diabetic, diet control will be more severe.

As soon as you are actually discharged, you should call your local emergency services (ambulance, fire department, etc,...) and tell them that you have had a heart transplant. Be sure to obtain and wear a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace. Carry a wallet card listing your doctors' phone numbers, your meds, and that you are a heart transplant patient.
     Your chest incision from surgery will not be covered with a bandage. The stitches that hold your incisions together are internal. They don't have to be removed and will dissolve on their own after a few weeks or so. You should have someone help you in and out of the shower the first few times you bathe after going home. Don't use really hot water when you shower, since it might make you dizzy by lowering your blood pressure. Some itching and numbness at the incision are normal. However, if there is drainage or swelling, call your transplant doc. If your chest incision aches, you can use a heating pad on it to reduce the pain.


Do not lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds for at least 8 weeks
Pushing or pulling things
It's easy to hurt yourself this way. Don't push or pull anything heavy
Don't - not until the doctors says it's okay. That will probably be about 6 weeks. Having an auto accident won't do your chest any good at all
Do not swim in standing water, like a lake or a pond. Swimming in a pool or in the ocean is okay
Hot tubs
Don't use one hotter than 99°
As long as you don't strain your incision or get seriously short of breath, have fun
Avoid sick people
If a family member is ill, do not sleep in the same room. Wear a mask, or have them wear a mask, or both


Record your weight daily
This allows you to spot fluid retention (edema) before it becomes serious. If you gain more than 2 to 3 pounds in 24 hours, follow your doctor's orders; probably to take an extra dose of diuretic. Weigh yourself in the morning before eating or going to the bathroom, in just your skin
Record your body temperature daily
Do this between 5:00 to 7:00 PM. If your temperature is higher than 100° F, call your doctor but do not take any over the counter medication
Record your blood pressure daily
Remember to write this stuff down every day, boys and girls! Low blood pressure or irregular heart beat may indicate rejection
Wash all fresh foods
Before eating fresh fruits and vegetables, wash them in a clean sink with warm, soapy water, then rinse thoroughly. Remember that you are on a strict low-sodium, low-fat diet
Avoid buffets and salad bars
These are places where germs are waiting to pounce on your weak immune system
Do not eat raw meat
That includes sushi, steak Tarter and raw oysters. Really bad idea
Keep a mask handy
Always wear a mask inside any hospital or doctor's office or clinic. For the first 3 months after surgery, wear a mask in any public area
Wash your hands
Often and well, especially before eating, after handling pets, going to the bathroom or shaking hands. It's a good idea to carry a little bottle of waterless antibiotic hand soap with you. Grocery stores now carry it next to "soft" or liquid soaps

Material taken from manuals given to potential transplant recipients at transplant centers in the USA, and from heart transplant recipients - Updated April 26, 2002

All information on this site is opinion only. All concepts, explanations, trials, and studies have been re-written in plain English and may contain errors. I am not a doctor. Use the reference information at the end of each article to search MedLine for more complete and accurate information. All original copyrights apply. No information on this page should be used by any person to affect their medical, legal, educational, social, or psychological treatment in any way. I am not a doctor. This web site and all its pages, graphics, and content copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Jon C.

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