Organ transplant is a major commitment. Here are ways to prepare mentally and physically.
Stevie Wonder announced on Saturday that he’ll undergo a kidney transplant in September.
The 69-year-old music legend made the announcement during a concert in London’s Hyde Park, reports ABC News.
While he didn’t offer more information on his condition, end-stage chronic kidney disease and kidney failure are among the top reasons for needing a kidney transplant. Wonder also said he’d take a break from touring due to the surgery.
Wonder’s announcement puts a spotlight on the approximately 100,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant in the United States.
Those waiting for a transplant can spend years on the organ donation list, but experts say there are ways to prepare mentally and physically for the life-changing surgery.
Organ transplant is a life-saving operation, but it’s also a major commitment before, during, and after the transplant. Taking time to prepare before a major operation can help organ transplant recipients recover faster.
Healthline gathered some expert advice on how transplant candidates can prepare themselves for an organ transplant.
While many people who get an organ transplant have been sick for a long time, those on a waiting list should try to stay as healthy as possible.
“The better condition you are in prior to transplantation, the shorter your hospitalization and the quicker your recovery will be,” said Dr. Lewis Teperman, director of transplant services at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York.
This includes eating well and staying active.
“Probably the best thing anyone can do to maintain candidacy [for organ transplant] is go out and take a walk every single day,” said Dr. Ervin Ruzics, a urologist and kidney transplant specialist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California.
He adds that people with kidney failure should continue dialysis and stick to the fluid limit their doctor sets for them.
Giving up smoking and drinking alcohol can also increase your chances for a successful surgery.
“These are not conducive to transplantation and have been known to decrease survival after transplantation if you continue doing them,” Teperman said.
He also encourages people to take their medications as prescribed to help keep themselves out of the hospital until an organ is available.
“If there’s any chance of not being hospitalized before your transplant, that would be good,” Teperman said, “because hospitalized individuals have a higher risk of infection and complications.”
An organ transplant isn’t just physically demanding. It can take a toll on a person’s mental health.
“Since a transplant is a major life change, the [pre-transplant health] evaluation also requires you to undergo a mental health evaluation,” said Tamara Ruggiero, vice president of communications and marketing at the nonprofit American Kidney Fund.
During this, the transplant candidate will meet with a social worker to make sure they’re ready for the transplant and able to care for themselves and their new organ.
Teperman says it’s not uncommon for the initial euphoria after surgery to be replaced by a small bout of depression when people realize they’ll be in recovery for one to three months, depending on the transplant.
He adds that people on an organ waiting list also need to realize that not everyone is going to receive a transplant.
As of today, 113,374 Americans need a life-saving organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. However, only around 36,500 transplants were performed in 2018.
“You should never hesitate to ask questions at every step of the process to make sure you fully understand what to expect and what will be expected of you,” Ruggiero said.
Questions to ask your transplant team include:
- How will I be evaluated for a transplant?
- What’s the process to find a match? What can or should I do to improve my chances of being matched and get off the waiting list sooner?
- What will my recovery be like? How soon will I be able to go home, and how often will I need to come back for checkups?
- When will I be able to return to work? To exercising? To heavy lifting? To driving? To having sex?
Teperman says transplant recipients or candidates should regularly communicate with their transplant team, such as if they become sick, move, have trouble getting their medications, or if their insurance runs out.
Ruzics agrees. “Don’t have any surprises for the doctor when they call you up and say, ‘We’ve got a kidney for you,’” he said.
This includes keeping a list of the type and dose of medications you’re taking so you have it handy when you come in for a transplant.
Ruzics also suggests that candidates have medical tests — such as chest X-ray or EKG — done right away if the transplant center requests it. That way, if you’re called into the hospital in the middle of the night for a transplant, all your tests will be up to date.
Ruzics says one of the main reasons transplant recipients end up losing a kidney is because they don’t regularly take their medications, go to their doctor, or go to the lab.
That’s where family or another caregiver comes in.
“It’s always important to have a caregiver around after an organ transplant,” Teperman said. “Most transplant centers won’t transplant you unless there is a suitable individual to help take care of you, whether that is a family member or a close friend.”
They can help the patient follow their doctor’s instructions, take their medications, eat the right foods, and be there in case of an emergency.
And they also “help you through these tough times and help you get support from a mental health specialist if needed,” Ruggiero said.
This is no small commitment.
“Family members have to be totally immersed in the process and learn and be educated and be able to help the patient,” Ruzics said.