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How to Help Someone Recover From a Kidney Transplant
The recipient of a kidney transplant will require careful help recovering from this major surgical procedure. There are risks involved with the surgery itself that will be addressed at the hospital. Transplant recipients will also need to keep regular appointments with medical professionals the rest of their lives. At home,there are a handful of ways you can help someone recover from a kidney transplant. With proper care and consistent healthy behavior, the recipient’s kidney may last up to ten years.
Helping During the Procedure
Keep track of information at the hospital.During the procedure itself, trust the transplant team to do their job. You can help by ensuring that all of the recipient’s medical records and insurance information are ready for the hospital’s consideration. Further, write down anything the medical team tells you about how to help the recipient recover. Pay particular attention to advice about medication, lab tests, and other aspects of necessary follow-up care.
- The recipient will be placed in intensive care for one to two days following the transplant. They will likely stay at the hospital for several days to a week.
Speak with the post-transplant coordinator.The recipient’s transplant team will include someone who is responsible for monitoring patient’s recovery. This person will be your main contact following the transplant, and will be able to answer any questions that arise during follow up care.
- Introduce yourself as the person who will be helping the recipient recover.
- The coordinator may have an information packet or other materials that can help you. It may also improve your ability to reach them later on if you make a personal connection at the hospital.
Plan to keep all appointments.Even when kidney transplants are successful, the recipient will need to see the transplant team every one or two weeks for the year after the procedure. After that, they still need to visit the team annually.
- Make sure you attend the first appointment following the procedure. Note the date, time, and location when you’re still at the hospital. Make sure you have the appropriate phone number in case you need to reschedule.
- After the first year, plan for annual visits around the time of year that the procedure occurred.
- Feel free to reach out to the post-transplant coordinator at any time if you have questions about the recipient’s recovery.
Helping the Recipient Medicate
Help keep medication consistent.Kidney transplant recipients require immunosuppression medications for the rest of their life. Familiarize yourself with each of the medications the recipient will need, as well as dosages and frequency the medication needs to be taken.
- Fill out a calendar with the dates, times, and amounts that each medication needs to be taken. Explain the calendar to the recipient and post it somewhere they will frequently and easily see it in their home.
Watch for side effects.Ask the doctor that prescribes the recipient’s medications about any side effects the medications may cause. Monitor for these side effects and other symptoms the recipient mentions. Write them down. Be sure to notify their medical team about any effects the medications have.
Limit sun exposure.Some of the medications commonly prescribed to transplant recipients may make them more susceptible to skin cancer. Accordingly, encourage the recipient to wear 20 SPF or stronger sunblock. Further, limit the amount of time the recipient spends in direct sunlight.
Encourage helpful medication habits.Direct the recipient to keep their medications with them at all times. Tell them not to take any other medication, including over-the-counter medicine, without letting a doctor know first. Explain that it is extremely important that they continue to take their medications until directly otherwise.
- If other containers are used to hold medications, ensure that they are labeled with names and dosage information.
- Discard outdated medication or medication a doctor says is no longer needed.
- If the recipient travels, direct them to keep medication with them, not in their checked luggage.
Remind them to wash their hands.Preventing infection, which may lead to the recipient’s body rejecting their new kidney, is vital. In particular, remind them to wash their hands after eating, handling food, touching anything unclean, or going to the restroom.
- Wash your own hands before spending time with them as well.
Handle pets for the recipient.If possible, a transplant recipient should avoid direct contact with pets, especially for a few months following the procedure. Never allow the recipient to handle pet waste with bare hands, and convey that it’s important for them not to do so.
- If you take care of pet waste for them, wear gloves and mask. Dispose of everything in an outdoor trash receptacle. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Ask the transplant coordinator for more information about pets in the recipient’s home.
Limit exposure to other people.Other people, especially in large groups, can cause a risk of infection for someone following a transplant. During the eight weeks following the procedure, instruct the recipient to keep house guests to a minimum. Anyone with a cold or other infection should be kept away from the recipient. Young children should also be kept away from recipients for this time period.
- Do not allow the recipient to eat from a salad bar or buffet.
- Instruct the recipient to avoid churches, theaters, malls, and other places with large numbers of people.
Watch for signs of rejection.If any signs of infection arise, contact the post-transplant coordinator immediately. You may need to bring the recipient to the hospital immediately. In particular, watch out for the following:
- High fever or flu-like symptoms, including chills, aches, dizziness, or nausea and vomiting.
- Pain or tenderness in the abdomen.
- Noticeable swelling elsewhere on the body, or sudden weight gain greater than 4 pounds within 24 hrs.
- A substantial decrease in the need to urinate.
Encouraging Healthy Physical Rehabilitation
Return to physical activity slowly.A kidney transplant recipient may be able to walk the day after their surgery! However, you should encourage someone to take it slow in terms of physical activity following the procedure. That said, once the recipient is feeling up to it, help them begin to work physical activity back into their daily schedule. While taking care to prevent injury, light exercise can actually speed recovery.
- Once the incision is healed, have the recipient start with gentle stretching and walking. Make sure these types of exercises are comfortable and easily manageable three or four days in one week before allowing them to exercise more actively.
Ask their doctor about exercise specifics.As the kidney recipient becomes more capable of physical movement, have them talk to their doctor about the amount of activity they should be getting. They will help identify the appropriate amount of movement and exercise. Great questions for the patient to ask include:
- How much should I be exercising?
- What types of exercise should I favor? Which types should I avoid?
- Does exercise affect my recommended medicine schedule?
Increase activity gradually.Once the recipient is comfortable doing so, encourage daily aerobic exercise. Jogging, cycling, tennis, and swimming are all great options. Direct them to exercise about 20 to 30 minutes every other day. This will help them recover their strength and keep both their mind and body happy and healthy.
- Direct the recipient to avoid contact sports unless a doctor tells them they are healthy enough to participate.
Don’t allow heavy lifting.For about eight weeks after the surgery, prevent the recipient from lifting anything heavy. For two to three months afterwards, don’t let them handle anything that weighs more than 20 pounds. Don’t let them lift anything heavier than 40 pounds for at least four months.
Do not ignore pain or irregular heartbeats.If the recipient is fatigued or breathing heavily, have them reduce the amount of exercise they’re undertaking. There are certain signs of risk related to exercise that you should watch out for. If an irregular or fast heartbeat persists for more than 15 minutes after exercise, contact their doctor for instructions.
- If the recipient reports exercise-induced pain, tone down the amount or types of exercise they’re doing.
- If they experience weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness, have them stop exercising for the day.
Addressing Other Factors
Help drive them around.For at least six weeks, the transplant recipient should not be driving. Plan ahead to make sure you or someone else can help get them out of the house, particularly to doctor’s visits. Aside from doctor’s visits, be sure to bring the recipient to parks and other relatively secluded areas outdoors. It can improve both mental and physical recovery to get out of the house and spend time outdoors.
Be aware of gender-specific issues.A female kidney recipient should not become pregnant for at least a year following her surgery. Further, ensure that she gets annual pap smears and mammograms following the procedure, as medications may make her more susceptible to certain types of cancer. Men that receive a transplant may struggle to maintain erections.
- Have the recipient direct any concerns about fertility or sexuality to their doctor.
- If a woman has a baby while taking immunosuppressive medication, advise her to discuss feeding options with her doctor. Immunosuppressive medications can be passed through breastmilk and are harmful to the baby.
Insist they quit smoking.Smoking increases the risk of infection, which can put a kidney recipient in grave danger. Aside from other diseases, the risk of cancer is also greatly increased by smoking following a transplant. Further, smoking decreases your ability to heal and can worsen some of the dangerous side effects of immunosuppressive medications.
- Help them quit smoking by finding resources and support groups available in your area that are designed to help people quit.
QuestionIf I have abdominal pain on the other side of my body, what should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAny persistent abdominal pain should be reported to your transplant team. Contact your post-transplant coordinator to set up an appointment. If the pain is severe and unmanageable, go to an emergency room.Thanks!
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