How to recover from liver transplant surgery?
After surgery, the patient is taken to the intensive care unit, is monitored very closely with several machines. The patient will be on a respirator, a machine that breathes for the patient, and will have a tube in the trachea (the body's natural breathing tube) bringing oxygen to the lungs. Once the patient wakes up enough and can breathe alone, the tube and respirator are removed. The patient will have several blood tests, x-ray films, and ECGs during the hospital stay. Blood transfusions may
be necessary. The patient leaves the intensive care unit once he or she is fully awake, able to breathe effectively, and has a normal temperature, blood pressure, and pulse, usually after about 3-4 days. The patient is then moved to a room with fewer monitoring devices for a few days longer before going home. The average hospital stay after surgery is 1-3 weeks.
Successfully receiving a transplanted liver is only the beginning of a life-long process. Patients with transplanted livers have to stay on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives to prevent organ rejection. Although many can reduce the dosage after the initial few months, virtually none can discontinue drugs altogether. Prednisone, azathioprine, and tacrolimus are often combined with cyclosporine for better results. Newer immunosuppressive agents are coming that promise even better results. In spite of immunosuppressants, rejection occurs most of the time and requires additional medication. In some cases it cannot be reversed, and retransplantation becomes necessary.
After discharge from the hospital, patients are seen every week (for approximately three weeks) in the outpatient clinic for an examination and monitoring of blood tests. During this time, medications are adjusted based on the levels found in your blood. After approximately one month, patients are usually seen only two to three times during the first year. Also beginning at one month, blood is checked every other week; eventually, it is checked only once a month. Most patients are encouraged to resume physical activity, including work, after three to six months, depending on their recovery. Patients may resume heavy activity, including workouts, at six months. As for life expectancy, more than 80 percent of patients are alive more than five years after liver transplantation.