Liver Transplant Patient Guide
Your Transplant Team
Each of the skilled health care professionals who make up the transplant team take a personal interest in answering a patient's questions and taking care of his medical needs. They will also help the patient keep his spirits up along the way.
The patient is the most important member of the transplant team. To a certain extent, all the other team members will respond to his cues. The patient's physical, emotional, and practical needs will help them shape a personalized pretransplant and posttransplant treatment program.
The transplant surgeon performs the actual transplantation procedure and monitors a patient's medication before, during, and after surgery. He or she will assess the quality of the donor's liver before surgery, and monitor the patient's general and liver status following transplantation.
He or she will also check the patient's medication needs, and periodically check the incision to make sure it is healing properly.
Transplant Physician (Hepatologist)
A transplant physician monitors all non-surgical aspects of patient care. A transplant patient will see this doctor often. The transplant physician will perform examinations, check test results, and adjust medication as needed. A patient should not be shy in asking questions and alerting his physician regarding changes in the way he feels, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
This team member, usually a registered nurse, will have two key responsibilities:
- First, he or she will coordinate all the events leading up to and following surgery. These may include scheduling pretransplant testing, locating donor liver, testing for donor compatibility, contacting the patient once a liver has been found, and making sure that the patient has proper follow-up care.
- Second, the coordinator will teach the patient how to take care of himself before and after transplantation, including how to take medication and when to return to the transplant center for follow-up visits. He or she can put the patient in touch with community services that will make life easier for him and his family.
Nurse practitioners are responsible for monitoring your daily status and care, and will meet with you regularly during your clinic visits. They will provide patient and family education, including teaching you how to check your vital signs and identify any signs of infection. They will help you learn how and when to take your new transplant medications. They play an important role in alerting the team to any potential problems.
Floor or Staff Nurse
This nurse will help coordinate the activities of the transplant patient's other caregivers, as well as tending to the patient's needs during his hospital stay and preparing him for discharge. The staff nurse will also keep the lines of communication open between the patient and the other members of the transplant team.
Exercise will improve a transplant patient's circulation, making him feel stronger, helping him avoid excessive weight gain, and increasing his sense of well-being. He or she will set the patient's exercise limits after surgery and will advise when it is safe to increase activity. A patient should ask his therapist to help devise an exercise plan that will be beneficial.
Following doctor's orders, a registered clinical dietitian will create a special diet plan that will help a patient stay healthy and avoid excessive weight gain after surgery. The patient should follow the diet plan prepared for specifically for him. Proper nutrition can speed recovery and help a patient to stay healthy.
A patient and his family members may find it helpful to talk about their feelings with a professional before and after surgery. Frank discussion may help cope with the transplant experience and with the changes it will make in a transplant patient's life. The psychologist or psychiatrist can offer insight and support along every step of the way.
The social worker will link the patient to services and people in the community who can help with recovery after leaving the hospital. If the patient needs transportation, help at home, or a hand when going back to school or work, the social worker will help arrange it. The social worker can also advise about Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurance coverage, as well as helping with psychosocial and family matters.
Since medication will become a regular part of a patient's life before and after surgery, the pharmacist will be available to educate the patient and family. He or she can give advice about drugs, including the immunosuppressive medications that will help prevent the body from rejecting a new liver.