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Patient's Guide to Heart Transplant Surgery

Rejection

Petri dish with blood sample.

The body will attack anything that is not its own. It does this because of a very complex system known as the immune system. It protects you from getting sick. The cells of the immune system attack and kill any foreign objects in your body like the bacteria or viruses that cause colds. When you are given an organ, the cells of our immune system realize that it is foreign and attack it. When the immune cells attack your new organ, we call it "rejection". Nearly all patients will have at least one or more rejection episodes after transplant surgery.

We give you medications like Cyclosporin, Prograf, Prednisone, Immuran or Cellcept to prevent your immune cells from attacking and killing your new organ. Sometimes, the immune cells attack, even though you are taking these medications. We treat this by raising the dosage of your Prednisone for a period of time and then slowly lowering the dosages as the rejection goes away. At this time, taking these medications is the only way to prevent rejection. As a result, you will need to take them for the rest of your life.

Rejection occurs most often in the first six weeks after surgery. The chances of your body rejecting your new organ(s) decreases with time, but rejection can occur any time after transplant. The only way to catch rejection of the heart in its early stages (before the immune cells have caused serious damage to the transplanted heart) is to frequently monitor your condition.

 

 

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