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Benefits and Challenges After an Organ Transplant

Most people share a common misconception after organ transplant surgery, according to Marwan Abouljoud, MD, director of the Transplant Institute at Henry Ford Hospital System in Detroit.

After their transplant, most people just do not understand the magnitude of the surgery they went though. Many think recovery is a matter of a few weeks.

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Not true, Abouljoud has to tell them. Recovery is hard work, as is coming to the realization that the transplant surgery carries benefits as well as challenges. Chief among the challenges, Abouljoud and other experts say, is that you have to become accustomed to your new medication regimen, designed to prevent rejection of the new organ. There's also a chance you'll need to come back to the hospital for something minor or maybe more surgery.

To make recovery go smoothly, here is what you need to know about your post-transplant period.

Emotions After an Organ Transplant

The good news: The majority of people feel better after an organ transplant, says Gigi Spicer, RN, director of theVirginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors' Hospital in Richmond, Va.

A typical comment she hears is this: "I didn't know how badly I felt." With that increased sense of well-being, patients are often euphoric.

While that sense of elation is wonderful, Spicer says to remember that you can't push your body faster than it wants to go.

Medications After an Organ Transplant

Like all organ transplant patients, you left the hospital with multiple medications. Perhaps some are to treat underlying conditions such as blood pressure and you are accustomed to taking them.

But the other medications are immunosuppressant drugs to keep your body from fighting off the new organ. A heart transplant patient can leave the hospital with 10 or 15 prescriptions, Diane Kasper, heart transplant coordinator at Mayo Clinic Hospital, tells WebMD.

To avoid problems post-transplant, you must take the medications as prescribed. It can help if you ask your doctor or the pharmacist exactly what each medication is for and to describe possible side effects so you can be aware of them and report them.

Also ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should take the medications with food and if it's still OK to take your routine vitamins, calcium, and other supplements.

Your Post-Transplant Routine

Expect to have an ongoing relationship with your organ transplant team. Depending on the type of transplant and your health status, you will be given a schedule of follow-up exams.

For example, if you had a heart transplant, you might meet with your health care providers twice a week for two months. Blood work is needed to follow your progress. Perhaps you'll go to a support group. And always, you have to be on guard against infection.

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