If you're a transplant recipient, an outbreak of a virus such as the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can quickly increase your anxiety about how to protect your health.
Following recommendations to practice social distancing (also called physical distancing) may leave you and your family or caregiver feeling alone in managing your health after transplant. That's why it's so important to stay connected to your Temple transplant team. They're with you every step of the way, as part of your transplant home care and beyond.
As a Temple transplant nurse practitioner, I’m offering simple guidelines and answers to some commonly asked questions about ways to stay healthy post-transplant:
Are transplant recipients at higher risk for viruses like COVID-19?
It's not yet known if a COVID-19 infection is worse in transplant recipients than otherwise healthy people. We do know other viruses often hit people with lower immune systems — such as transplant recipients — harder, with more serious complications. That's why it's so important to do all you can to protect yourself from getting sick.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends everyone:
- Avoid crowds and close contact with people who are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after visiting a public place. If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and then wash your hands as soon as you are able.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
If a family member or someone you're in close contact with tests positive for the virus, avoid all contact with that person. Let your transplant coordinator know and monitor yourself for symptoms — fever, cough or shortness of breath. Contact your coordinator if any symptoms develop.
What do I do if I think I'm going to run out of medication?
It's recommended that you have extra medications on hand in case you need to be home for an extended period. Talk with your doctor about changing your prescription to a 90-day supply of medications.
Most insurance companies are allowing early refills or extended supplies. Consider having medications mailed to you or using the pharmacy drive-thru to avoid crowded stores.
What are the most important things I can do to stay healthy after transplant?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is your best defense against getting sick, COVID-19 or not. The best part? Living a healthy lifestyle isn't complicated and involves the same strategies medical professionals have been recommending for years:
1. Develop and keep up good eating habits.
At the heart of a healthy lifestyle is a nutritious diet loaded with vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and includes lean proteins, with limited saturated fats and sugar.
2. Get and stay active.
Moving your body and getting your heart pumping is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. It doesn't take a gym or an organized class to get moving. A walk is always an option. Yes, it may mean bundling up or breaking open an umbrella, but the benefits are worth it.
3. Don't smoke and avoid alcohol.
Smoking or vaping are never healthy. Avoiding alcohol is important to a healthy lifestyle post-transplant.
How can I avoid feeling down or anxious?
It's not uncommon to feel depressed or anxious after a transplant. The need for social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19 can contribute to those emotions. Don't wait to reach out for support:
- Connect with your transplant team. They know the common speed bumps transplant recipients can face and can help you deal with them.
- Connect with friends and family, even if it's by phone or video chat.
- Join a support group. Virtual groups may provide good online options that support social distancing.
- Take a walk and get a dose of fresh air when social distancing leaves you feeling anxious and alone.
What else should I know as a transplant recipient?
Take your medications as directed. Remember, your transplant team is your best source for answers to questions or concerns that come up after transplant, too.