Skip to main content

Ten Things to Do to Have a Long-Term Organ Transplant

When I was only 13, my kidneys quit working. My first kidney transplant lasted an astounding 31 years before wearing out due to its age.

When I was only 13 years old, my kidneys quit working, and I began dialysis. A very long story short, 36 years later, I am still going strong, even competing at the national level in a popular sport.

The secret to my longevity is simple. I've had two great kidney transplants, thanks to donors I will never meet. My first kidney transplant lasted an astounding 31 years before finally "wearing out" due to its old age. Before needing dialysis again, a second, perfect match transplant came just in the nick of time, and that transplant has been doing fantastic for three years.

People have asked me what the secret is to my transplants' longevity, so here are my top 10 things to do keep an organ transplant going strong for a long, long time.

#10 Watch Out for Viruses and Infections

Our immune system's job is to keep the body as clear and free of viruses and infections as possible. Left unchecked, bacteria and viruses would kill a human quickly. Fortunately, our immune system recognizes these tiny bacteria and viruses when they enter, and the immune system mounts an attack.

Because of this, transplant patients must take immunossuppresent drugs that keep their immune systems from "seeing" and attacking their transplants which are viewed by their bodies no differently than a virus or bacteria. A normal, healthy immune system would immediately see this new organ and begin an attack, causing the rejection and eventual failure of the organ.

So a transplant patient takes these immunossuppresent drugs to suppress his or her immune system to the point that the body will no longer view the transplant as dangerous. However, the patient is then left with a weakened immune system, leaving the patient susceptible to infections and viruses.

For me, I find the common cold takes two months to go away. People with normal immune systems can throw a cold off in a matter of a few days to three weeks. People with suppressed immune systems need to come to terms with their situation. An infection or virus that is easily cured in someone with a normal immune system can be deadly for a transplanted patient. It is a serious situation.

Because of this transplant patients must become germ phobes. Patients should learn how germs are spread and what steps to take to best avoid infection. People living with a transplant patient need to become germ phobes as well. A transplant recipient needs to wash their hands often, carry and use anti-bacterial solution, avoid crowds (especially during cold and flu season), avoid sick family members or co-workers, etc.

Do not be afraid of coming across rude if someone with a cold or flu sits or stands near you. Your health is more important than their feelings, and friends and family will understand your special needs.

Good hygiene, home cleanliness and simple common sense can keep you from contracting a deadly virus or infection. Talk with your doctor about symptoms of infection, and be constantly aware of this possibility. If you at all suspect an infection is starting, contact your health care team immediately. The sooner it can be addressed with antibiotics, the more likely the infection will not get out of control.

My germaphobe habits and adherence to infection symptoms have kept my transplants going strong.

#9 Develop a Relationship With Your Healthcare Team

One of the biggest mistakes patients of all kinds make is to rush through their doctor's appointment. Your health care team is vital to your care. You need to develop a working relationship with your team, and you'll need to maintain that relationship.

To do this, make sure you are ready for your doctor's appointments. Take with you a list of questions, any prescriptions you have questions about and an open mind. Don't hesitate to ask questions and take notes. Sometimes doctor's appointments can be very stressful as "bad news" is discussed. Our minds can shut down, and only a small percent of what the doctor said might be remembered. Notes or recording the visit can help minimize this. It may also be good to bring along a family member or friend educated in the situation to "remember" important details for you.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Patientslounge