Organ donation

Having transplant surgery

We interviewed recipients who’d had different kinds of transplants. Experiences vary from person to person and also depend on the kind of transplant involved. Here, recipients of a number of different organs talk about their experiences of having transplant surgery. This summary is a brief overview of some of their experiences.
 
When recipients knew that an organ had become available for them, usually after a phone call from the hospital which they may have been waiting for weeks or months, they went straight to the hospital. There, some of them had been given more tests. At this stage, most people had been aware that the transplant still might not go ahead if, for example, tests showed the donor and recipient were not after all a compatible match or if the organs had been unsuitable for other reasons. Several had had ‘false alarms’ in the past and had known that this could happen again (see Waiting on the list and the call for transplant).

When recipients had been told the transplant would go ahead, many had said their goodbyes to their family, uncertain what the outcome of surgery would be. Some had already been in hospital when they were told that they would be having transplant surgery. Justine had been in a High Dependency Unit for several months. When she was strong enough to have surgery and two lungs had become available, she said her goodbyes to her family. Helen, who’d been waiting for a lung and liver transplant, said she had no fears about the surgery beforehand. Her health had become so poor that she’d known she could not have had long to live without the transplant. Diana (Interview 03) had felt numb before surgery and, before anaesthetic, panicked and had wanted to go home. When the doctor gave her the choice, she realised she needed the transplant.  
 
Hardev went into hospital with his daughter, who would be donating a kidney to him. 
 
Some recipients recalled having the anaesthetic and then coming round afterwards, when the transplant had been done. Patients are given a general anaesthetic, which means that they are asleep during the operation. Some recipients described how they’d felt when they’d first come round. Several had felt disorientated or confused at first and, very briefly, were unsure where they were. A few said they’d felt sick because of the medication they’d been given. Some mentioned feeling pain or soreness. Others said they noticed a positive difference in how they were feeling straight away, e.g. they no longer felt so breathless or they looked a healthier colour.
 
Diana had had a heart and lung transplant and felt ‘dreadful’. Cheryl had also had a heart and lung transplant and had noticed that her hand looked pink when, during her illness, she’d always looked blue. This highlights how, even with the same kind of transplant, experiences can vary greatly for many different reasons.  
Some of the people we interviewed who’d had a kidney transplant said they’d noticed a difference in how they looked and felt relatively quickly. Deepak and Chris, though, had had complications. Chris received a kidney from a cadaveric (deceased) donor and, after about ten days, it had rejected. There is no guarantee that any transplant will work. However, living kidney transplantation is overwhelmingly successful with 97% of live donated kidneys working well at one year. This compares with a slightly lower success rate of 94% for kidneys from deceased donors (NHS Choices 2014).
Some recipients, like Deepak, had had problems at first but doctors had tried different medications and the patient had started improving. Many then made steady progress daily. Several recalled how the equipment they’d been attached to had gradually been removed. As they became stronger, physiotherapists or nurses had encouraged them to try and walk and do gentle exercise. When they were well enough, they’d been transferred from intensive care or a high dependency unit to a ward, where they continued to make good progress. Two people, who’d had a heart and lung transplant, said they stayed in a hospital flat before being allowed home.
Helen had had a lung and liver transplant.
 
Many recipients talked about the care they’d received from doctors and nurses. Most had been happy with it but some had been disappointed with the way news or information had been given. Recipients also talked about the progress they’d made once at home and the care they’d received after their transplant (see Health issues after the transplant).


Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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