Care and Recovery After Heart Transplant Surgery
After heart transplant surgery, you begin the lifelong process of recovering and receiving the full benefit from your new heart.
Caring for Yourself
Following heart transplant surgery, you will need to:
- Take care of your incision site.
- Take medicines twice a day.
- Follow testing that was ordered to you and attend all follow-up appointments.
- Move around and focus on regaining strength and muscle mass that you lost while being sick before your transplant.
A cardiac rehabilitation program can help you recover and get stronger after a heart transplant procedure.
The cardiac rehab program at UPMC lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks and will help you:
- Continue the breathing exercises you began while in the hospital.
- Strengthen your entire body.
Post-Op Heart Transplant Surgery Appointments
You need to stay close to UPMC for at least a month after your heart transplant surgery.
For the first four weeks, you will come back once a week for biopsies. Then, if your recovery is going well, your appointments will follow this schedule:
- Every other week in month 2
- Once a month until 6 months
- Every other month until 12 months
If you don't live nearby, you and your caregiver can arrange for a room at Family House until you have recovered enough to return home. Family House is not a medical facility.
Diagnosing heart transplant rejection
During the biopsies, we take a tiny piece of the heart muscle and look for signs of inflammation or rejection. Biopsies are the only way doctors can tell early on if your body is rejecting your donor heart.
In addition to the biopsies and follow-up visits, the transplant team will ask you to keep track of and report any changes in your:
- Blood pressure
Major changes can be signs of an infection or problem. Call us right away if you have signs of a problem.
Preventing Heart Rejection and Infection After Your Transplant
Rejection is a concern after heart transplant surgery, which is why you will need to take anti-rejection medications every day for the rest of your life. It is very important to your recovery that you do not miss these medications. It is also very important to have your blood work done as directed so that the anti-rejection medication levels can be monitored.
In addition to these medications, you may have prescriptions for:
- Infection prevention
- High blood pressure or diabetes
- Lipid agent
Call your transplant coordinator or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medications.
Effects of anti-rejection medications after heart transplant
Anti-rejection medicines help to suppress your immune system from rejecting your new heart but can also decrease the ability to protect you from infections.
Make sure that you follow proper hygiene care to prevent infection and ask that any visitors do so as well.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds during peak times for illness like flu season.
- Ask loved ones and friends to avoid visiting when they are sick.
Recovering at Home After Heart Transplant
You will not be able to drive for about 6 weeks after heart transplant surgery.
You will need to have a caregiver with you 24 hours a day for the first few months after heart transplant surgery.
This can be one person or a team of people who are willing to help you with daily activities such as:
- Keeping track of information to provide to the heart transplant team.
- Taking your medicines on time.
- Driving you to and from appointments.
- Refilling prescriptions, grocery shopping, and running other errands.
- Keeping watch for any unusual behavior and contacting the transplant team with concerns.
- Helping with daily activities.
Life After Heart Transplant
The recovery process after transplant is challenging. It requires you to follow a strict plan for eating, exercising, and taking medications.
Getting the most benefit from your heart transplant and ensuring quality of life requires a strong commitment to following the lifestyle guidelines you received before and after surgery.
You will take many of the medicines you received during the transplant for the rest of your life. It's crucial that you always take these on time and at the right dosage.
If you have any concerns about your medicines or their side-effects, please call the transplant office to discuss.
Do not stop taking your medicines or try adjusting them on your own. If medicines are being ordered by other medical teams, please make sure to contact your transplant coordinator to review for potential interactions with immunosuppression medicines.
Heart healthy diet and nutrition
The nutritionist on your heart transplant team will work with you to create an eating plan.
Certain foods can affect the medicines you are taking. And your medicines can affect your potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium levels.
You'll need to be careful about eating certain foods high in these nutrients to keep them in proper range. Your nutrition plan will suggest foods for you based on your medications.
In general, a heart healthy diet means:
- Limiting fat, sugar, and salt.
- Eating recommended fruits and vegetables and lean meat.
- Avoiding salty snacks, canned soups, or premade meals that tend to be high in sodium (salt).
It's important that you follow these guidelines to recover faster and to make sure your heart is working properly.
Exercises for the heart
You will need to move around regularly after transplant to recover and prevent blood clots.
- Take short naps when you need to, but do not lie around in bed for long periods during the day.
- Start with short walks and build up as you're able.
- Attend a cardiac rehab program.
The UPMC heart transplant team is here for you for the rest of your life. Do not hesitate to call the Cardiothoracic Transplant office at 412-648-6202 or toll free at 844-548-4591 for additional information.
You can also fill out a Contact Form to schedule an appointment with the UPMC Heart Transplant Program, or to refer a patient.