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How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery

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Child life specialists, who help children and their families understand what to expect and how to cope with the hospital and surgical experience, offer these tips for helping prepare your child.

Very young children may become anxious if they have too much time to think about what will happen. Wait until a few days before surgery to explain what is going to happen. Older children can be told sooner and are able to absorb more details about the procedures. Adolescents may benefit by being included in discussions from the start and being made to feel that they have a part in planning.

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your child for hospitalization is to ensure that they feel safe by letting them know you will be nearby at all times and overseeing their care.

Children do best when they know what to expect. Your child’s age, experience, and personality will determine how much she will want to know about the hospitalization or procedures to be performed. Be sure to answer questions as honestly as possible to help your child maintain trust in you and the health care team and also to correct any misunderstandings or allay any fears he may have.

Your child’s brothers and sisters may also have questions, concerns, and fears. You’ll need to have similar conversations with them and provide reassuring but honest answers to their questions. Be sure to communicate with them individually throughout the experience and invite them to accompany you on a visit to the hospital.

The hospital environment may be strange or even anxiety-provoking to your child. You can help make your child feel more comfortable by bringing some familiar objects and a favorite toy or stuffed animal.

If you or your child need help understanding any aspect of the transplant experience, a child life specialist who is specially trained in transplantation is available to speak with your or provide more information. To talk to a child life specialist, call 214-456-8600.

The Transplant Surgery

Following admission to the hospital, your child will be given additional blood tests to confirm that the donor liver is a good match. Your child will then be taken to the operating room. The length of time of the transplant surgery varies significantly. A member of the transplant team will tell you what to expect beforehand and will update you on the progress of the surgery.

When the surgery is completed, your child will be monitored closely in the intensive care unit (ICU).  At all steps after surgery, a member of the transplant team will provide you with information and education concerning postoperative care and what you will need to know following discharge from the hospital, including details about diet, activities permitted, medications, schedules for follow up, and more.

After surgery, as before, great effort will be made to reduce the likelihood that your child will reject the donor liver. Rejection, which is the body’s natural reaction to the presence of a foreign object, may occur when your child’s immune system responds to the transplanted liver as if it were a threat, producing antibodies to attack the new organ. To prevent rejection, the immune system— because it doesn’t recognize that the new liver is a lifesaver— must be tricked into accepting the new organ and not fighting it as if it were a threatening invader. 

Each child’s experience will vary, but the following are among the common symptoms of rejection. Contact the transplant team at once if you observe:

  • Abdominal swelling or tenderness
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Itching
  • Jaundice

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