Living Donation

After Heart Transplant Surgery: Care and Recovery

After heart transplant surgery, you begin the journey of healing and enjoying the gift of your new heart.

Once we discharge you from the hospital, you will need to stay in the Pittsburgh area for a while. You'll have regular check-ins with your heart transplant team and further tests.

If you don't live nearby, you and your caregiver can arrange for a room at Family House until you can go home. Family House offers patients and their loved ones an affordable home away from home.

As you heal after heart transplant surgery, you'll need to:

  • Take care of your incision site.
  • Take medicines twice a day.
  • Have follow-up tests and attend all appointments.
  • Move around. Focus on regaining strength and muscle mass that you lost while being sick before your transplant.

The cardiac rehab program at UPMC can help you recover and get stronger after your heart transplant.

Rehab lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks and will help you:

  • Keep up with the breathing exercises you started while in the hospital.
  • Strengthen your whole body.

Post-Op Heart Transplant Appointment Schedule

You need to stay close to UPMC for at least a month after your heart transplant.

For the first 4 weeks, you'll come back once a week for biopsies.

During the biopsies, we take a tiny piece of the heart muscle and look for signs of inflammation or rejection. This is the only way doctors can tell early on if your body is rejecting your donor heart.

Then, if your recovery is going well, your appointments will follow this schedule:

  • Month 2 post-transplant — every other week.
  • Months 3 to 6 post-transplant — once a month.
  • Months 7 to 12 post-transplant — every other month.

Along with tests and follow-up visits, the transplant team will ask you to keep track of and report any changes in your:

  • Temperature
  • Pulse
  • Blood pressure
  • Weight

Call us right away if you have any major changes. They can be signs of an infection or problem.

You can reach us at 412-648-6202 or toll-free at 844-548-4591.

Medicines to Prevent Heart Rejection and Infection

Rejection is a concern after heart transplant surgery.

To help avoid it, you'll need to take anti-rejection medicine every day for the rest of your life. It's vital to your recovery that you don't forget to take these meds. You'll also need blood work so that we can keep an eye on your anti-rejection medicine levels.

Your care team may prescribe other meds to manage or prevent:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • High cholesterol or lipid levels

Call your transplant coordinator or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Tips to help prevent infection after heart transplant

Anti-rejection drugs help suppress your immune system from rejecting your new heart. But, they can also decrease your body's ability to fight infections.

To prevent infection, make sure to practice good hygiene and ask any visitors to 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

When you return home, you will not be able to drive for about 6 weeks after heart transplant surgery.

You'll need a caregiver with you 24 hours a day for the first few months post-transplant.

This can be one person or a team of people who are willing to help you with daily tasks such as:

  • Keeping track of changes to your health or any strange behaviors. Call the heart transplant team right away if you notice any major changes or problems.
  • Taking your meds on time.
  • Driving you to and from appointments.
  • Refilling prescriptions, shopping, and running other errands.

Life After Heart Transplant

Recovery after transplant can be a challenge. Getting the most from your new heart and ensuring quality of life requires a strong commitment.

You'll need to follow the medication and lifestyle guidelines you received before and after your heart transplant surgery.

Medicines

After a heart transplant:

  • You'll take some medicines for the rest of your life. It's crucial that you always take these on time and at the right dose.
  • Do not stop taking your meds or try to adjust them on your own.
  • Contact your transplant coordinator if other doctors or care teams prescribe you meds. He or she will review them for potential interactions with your anti-rejection drugs.

If you have any concerns about your meds or their side-effects, call the transplant office at 412-648-6202 or toll-free at 844-548-4591.

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 your medicines.

And your meds can affect your potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium levels. You'll need to be careful about eating foods high in these nutrients to keep them in proper range.

Your meal plan will suggest foods for you based on your medications.

A heart-healthy diet means you should:

  • Limit fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Eat recommended fruits, veggies, and lean meats.
  • Avoid salty snacks, canned soups, or premade meals that tend to be high in sodium (salt).

It's important you follow these guidelines to heal faster and make sure your new heart is working the way it should.

Exercises for the heart

You will need to move around regularly after your heart transplant.

Follow these tips to help you recover and prevent blood clots:

  • Take short naps when you need to, but don't 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.

Even after you've returned to daily living, the UPMC heart transplant team is here for you for the rest of your life. We'll stay in contact with you in case you have any side effects, issues, or questions after your heart transplant.

Contact the UPMC Heart Transplant Team

Call our office at 412-648-6202 or toll-free 844-548-4591 to learn more.

Or fill out the UPMC Heart Transplant Program contact form to make an appointment or refer a patient.