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Beginning rehab

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After your transplant, your rehabilitation will begin while you are still in the hospital. When you wake up in the recovery room or ICU, you will have several IV lines, drainage tubes, and perhaps an oxygen tank. Once you are stable, you will be moved to a step-down unit where physical therapists will get you up and walking with all of that in tow, usually within a day of surgery. They will help you sit in a chair, move your muscles so they do not atrophy, and help you mark milestones that will pave your way to walking out of the hospital.

When you are discharged from the hospital, many centers will require you to complete a set number of sessions in an outpatient pulmonary rehab program. Some will require you to attend a program at the transplant center. Others may allow you to attend a program closer to your home – if you had to relocate – but keep in mind that your transplant team may adjust your medications and schedule several checkups in the first three months, so it may be wise to live near the transplant center for the first few months immediately after your surgery.

Rehab is often a wonderful time in the transplant journey, because even in the beginning, you may have the stamina to do more than you could do before your surgery. However, this is also a time when you must take things slowly. You may feel weak and drained at first because a transplant is traumatic to your body. Even weeks removed from surgery, you will likely still be sore at the surgical sites, and weak from lack of exercise or from transplant medication side effects.

Each patient’s range of mobility differs after surgery. Therefore, it is important to establish a baseline when you begin working so you can monitor your progress. Try not to compare your progress to others’, and do not be disheartened if you are unable to walk as quickly or lift as much as you were before the transplant. Shortness of breath at first is also not uncommon. Your new lungs will need to expand, and your body will have to retrain your brain to know that you are moving much more air than before. Your breathing, strength, and stamina will improve as you continue to work out. Some patients, typically younger ones, may improve significantly within weeks. For others, it may take up to a year or more to fully regain their strength.

After the transplant, you will be expected to monitor your weight, temperature, blood glucose level, blood pressure, and breathing with a microspirometer daily. Routine attention to these tests will allow you to identify a problem even if you are not experiencing symptoms of an illness. You will have goals for physical fitness to accomplish before you can graduate from your rehab program, but with success from the surgery, these goals are easier and often pleasurable to accomplish.

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