The outcome of your operation
Most people leave hospital within about four weeks of the operation, but depending on your condition, you may need to stay in hospital for longer.
In the first few months after your surgery you will need to spend a lot of time visiting the hospital. Your transplant team will talk to you about practical arrangements for after your surgery.
Although you will be weak after the operation, recovery can be very quick. It is important to build up your level of activity gradually. You should avoid activities involving pushing, pulling or heavy lifting until your breastbone is fully healed, which can take up to three or four months.
What you can do to help your recovery
To make sure that your heart transplant is as successful as possible, you may need to adjust your lifestyle. Here are some things you can do to aid your recovery:
- Attend all your appointments – this allows doctors to monitor your health and alter medications if needed.
- Take your prescribed medication.
- Wear sunblock when you go outside as after a transplant you are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
- Don’t smoke – this will help to keep your heart healthy.
- Do regular physical activity such as walking around your home and building up short walks outside.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet to protect your heart. This includes eating lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grain.
- Aim to control your cholesterol and blood pressure levels by swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing salt in your diet.
- Be aware of personal and food hygiene to avoid infection. You can do this by:
– avoiding coming into contact with anyone who has an infection
– not consuming high-risk foods that could cause food poisoning such as raw eggs, mayonnaise, raw meats, unpasteurised milk and cheeses, and shellfish
– keeping your pets healthy, wormed and vaccinated. You should also avoid changing cat litter trays (the infection toxoplasmosis is carried by cats)
– washing your hands after gardening or if you have been handling any pets.
It’s a good idea to take part in a cardiac rehab programme. The aim of the programme is to help you recover as quickly as possible. The programme includes supervised exercise and advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
It’s normal to feel a bit worried about how you will manage following your heart transplant. Every person reacts differently, but it’s important to talk to someone you trust about how you feel.
While you’re in hospital you can talk to the specialist transplant nurse or other members of your transplant team. The staff at your transplant centre can give you details of who you can contact after you’ve left hospital in case you have concerns. Most transplant centres also run outpatients support clinics which can help you and your family adjust to life after a heart transplant.
It’s important to remember that the transplanted heart is no more than a pump and that it does not change your personality or behaviour.