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Heart Transplant - How To Manage Your Life Post Surgery?

Written and reviewed by
MCH DNB (CTVS), Advanced fellowship, MS
Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery, Delhi  •  22 years experience
Heart Transplant - How To Manage Your Life Post Surgery?

Heart transplant surgery is one of the most critical cardiac surgeries that exists. Since the procedure requires an open-heart surgery, it often takes a long time to complete the operation. General anaesthesia is applied to the patient so that he doesn't feel a thing. The surgeon then connects the patient to the heart-lung bypass machine so that oxygen-rich blood keeps flowing inside the body. The surgeon then separates the chest bone, opens the rib cage, takes out the old heart to replace it with the new one. As soon as the blood flow is restored, the new heart starts functioning (pumps blood). Sometimes an electric shock is required to make the new heart work.

What to expect after the procedure?
The patient is given pain medications and connected to a ventilator. It helps the patient to breath and ejects body fluid. The medications and the fluid in transferred to the body through IV tubes. The patient is kept in an intensive care unit till his condition stabilizes. He might have to spend a couple of weeks to one month in the hospital before he is permitted to go home.

What to expect after the patient is released from the hospital?
The patient is now closely monitored by the transplant team at the outpatient transplant center. Since the intensity and the frequency of the monitoring are frequent, many patients chose to stay close to the hospital. Frequent tests such as regular blood work, echocardiogram, heart biopsies etc. are conducted at regular interval to monitor any signs of the body rejecting the new heart.

What are the long-term adjustments needed?
consumption of immunosuppressants medications would be sacrosanct for the rest of the life. Since the immune system would never fully accept the new organ, immunosuppressant would ensure that the body's antibodies do not attack the new organ. Over time though, as the risk of rejection comes down, the dosage of the immunosuppressant is reduced by the doctor. Since immunosuppressant has some side-effects, a doctor also prescribes certain antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial medications as well.

  • Managing therapies, medications and lifelong health plan: Heart transplant essentially means following a set of lifelong instructions as prescribed by the doctor. Taking medications on time, eating healthy, regular exercise, skipping junk foods, refraining from tobacco and alcohol are some of the instruction a patient might have to abide by for the rest of his life. Meeting the doctor once in a quarter is also important to ensure that any upcoming complications could be addressed proactively.
  • Emotional Support: Often patients feel overwhelmed by the experience of a heart transplant. The stress of the procedure gets to some patients resulting in less sleep, low appetite, lethargy etc. It makes sense to talk to the doctor and seek help for the same.
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