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Liver Transplant in Children: What to Expect at Home

The liver, and its location in the body

Your Child's Recovery

A liver transplant is surgery to give your child a healthy liver from another person. Your child may have received a whole new liver or just a section of a new liver.

Your child's belly and side will be sore for the first 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. He or she also may have some numbness around the cut (incision) the doctor made. It is common to feel tired while healing. It may take 2 to 4 months for your child's energy to fully return.

After the transplant, your child must take medicine to keep his or her body from rejecting the new liver. These anti-rejection medicines have side effects. One side effect is that the body may be less able to fight infections. You can talk with your doctor about ways to lower your child's chance of getting an infection.

You and your child will have to stay close to the hospital for about a month. Your child will have frequent checkups during that time. His or her medicines may be changed as needed.

Having a child who is getting an organ transplant can bring up many emotions. Seek out family, friends, and counsellors for support. If you think that you or your child is depressed, ask your doctor for help. Treatment can help you and your child feel better.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Have your child rest when he or she feels tired.
  • Allow your child's body to heal. Don't let your child move quickly or lift anything heavy until he or she is feeling better.
  • Have your child hold a pillow over the incision when he or she coughs or takes deep breaths. This will support the belly and decrease pain.
  • If your child is a teen, ask your doctor when he or she can drive again.
  • Many children are able to return to normal activities within 2 to 3 months after surgery.
  • Your doctor will tell you when your child can bathe or swim after surgery.

Diet

  • Follow your doctor's instructions about what your child can eat after surgery. Most children start eating a regular diet over time after the transplant.
  • If your child's bowel movements are not regular after going home, you can help him or her to avoid constipation and straining. Have your child drink plenty of water. The doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Give your child anti-rejection medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with the medicine.
  • If your child needs antiviral or antifungal medicines, give them as directed.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine. Do not give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) unless your doctor tells you it's okay.

Incision care

  • Your child will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.
  • Your child has severe belly pain.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
  • Your child's body shows signs of rejecting the new liver, such as:
    • Pain or swelling in the belly.
    • Sudden weight gain.
    • The skin or the whites of the eyes turn yellow.
    • Dark urine.
    • Headache, crankiness, or lack of energy.
  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the incision comes open.
  • Your child is bleeding through the bandage.
  • Your child can't drink fluids.
  • Your child has any problems with any of his or her medicine.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have questions.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.