Care partners' connection: transplant resources

Without a doubt, some of the major heroes of the organ transplant procedure are the care partners. From changing bandages (in the early days), to helping manage medications, to attending multiple doctor visits — you are a key member of your loved one's transplant team.

Learn all you can

Your role is vital to the success of your loved one's treatment and recovery, especially following the directions from your loved one's transplant team. If any part of their instruction is unclear or if you have any questions, pick up the phone and call. You will also want to learn as much as you can about transplant and what to expect in the years ahead. By understanding all you can, you can be strong for your loved one and a true resource for support.

Providing care after a transplant

Here are a few guidelines for care after surgery:

  • Talk to your loved one. Conversation is great medicine. Ask questions about your loved one's physical health, and remember to ask about emotional health, too.
  • Make a list and check it twice. Keep an eye on food, fluid, exercise, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, time awake, time asleep, and complaints of pain — write everything down.
  • Make a wall chart. Write large enough so that you and your loved one can read the categories, and track his or her progress together.

Getting back to normal

The impact of an organ transplant goes well beyond the bedside. It's a challenge of monitoring medications, working to help prevent rejection.

Start a medication schedule. Work on making sure your loved one takes his or her scheduled doses at the same time every day. Also, it's a good idea to connect the new schedule with a schedule that your loved one knows very well, such as always taking pills before brushing teeth, or right after a shower.

Use a pillbox to ensure that every dose of medication is taken every day, and fill it weekly.

Keep a medication list and/or medication schedule on the refrigerator and keep a copy with you at all times to ensure that your loved one does not miss a dose.

Watch your loved one's diet. Healthy eating is very important to good health. Be sure to talk to a dietitian about your loved one's specific nutritional needs. He or she may have to avoid certain foods while taking immunosuppressive medications. Your loved one may also have an increased appetite due to the steroids he or she may be taking, resulting in unwanted weight gain. A dietitian can help set up a diet plan that takes your loved one's unique needs and challenges into account.

Make sure that your loved one gets exactly the amount of exercise the doctor prescribes. And remember, exercise doesn't have to mean a mile-long jog. It can be as simple as a walk around the block, or dancing with friends.

Taking care of yourself

Caring for a loved one with a chronic illness or special needs can be stressful. Don't lose sight of your own needs as you help your loved one.

  • Get plenty of rest: Sleep is vital to your health. Make your rest a priority.
  • Get help: Many people will offer to help, whether it is making dinners for the freezer or walking the dog — take all the help you can get and seek help before you get overwhelmed. If you can afford it, look into a domestic helper so that you can focus on your personal needs and the needs of your loved one without worrying about chores getting out of hand.
  • Get support: Support groups offer information and advice to care partners as well as transplant recipients. Talk to your transplant team about local organizations that may be right for you.