Preparing for Surgery: Tips To Help You Get Ready for Transplant

May 24, 2017 | Mayo Clinic Transplant Staff | @mayoclinictransplantstaff | Comments (5)

Your evaluation is complete and you’ve been placed on the list for an organ transplant. Now you wait. It may take several months of waiting for a donor organ to become available, but when it happens, you may need to get to your transplant center quickly. Some of your waiting time can be spent preparing for that call. Make a list of the things you should do and consider packing so you will be ready when the time comes.

To help you begin, we have compiled a list of things to consider when you are preparing for your transplant surgery.

General Preparedness2017-05-02 Prep for Surg Blog

Once you find out you need a transplant, preparing for surgery can start immediately even though you might need to wait for a donor organ. Some things you can do before surgery to ensure you’re prepared include:

  • Attend all the appointments and education as directed by your care team.
  • Take all your medications as directed by your physician.
  • If you smoke, you should quit.
  • Eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
  • Exercise to maintain your energy level as you are able.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Make sure your caregiver arrangements are in place. If your caregiver should need to step away during your wait, identify someone who can step in if needed.

Fasting Prior to Surgery

When you get that call to come to the transplant center or you’re approaching the day of your living donor surgery, you should follow the fasting instructions given to you by your care team. General anesthesia relaxes the muscles in your digestive tract and airway. These muscles keep food and acid from passing from your stomach into your lungs. If your stomach is empty, there is less chance this could happen during surgery.


Some medications may cause complications during surgery. Make sure to discuss each of your medications, including herbals and supplements, with your doctor prior to surgery. The care team will let you know which medications you should continue and which you should not take prior to surgery. Be sure to bring at least a 24 hour supply of your medications in their original containers with you when you get the call to report for surgery.


Plan on leaving all your valuable items at home or with your caregiver. Rings, watches and other jewelry can’t be worn during surgery. Cell phones and electronics won’t be helpful to you until after you wake up from your surgery. Hospital rooms don’t have locks on the doors, so leaving your items in your hospital room could leave them vulnerable.

Packing Your Suitcase

When you get the call for transplant, you may have only a short time before you need to leave for the hospital. Having a suitcase ready (or at least a list of what to pack) might prevent some stress when you get the call. Many articles are written about what to pack in your suitcase prior to leaving for a hospital stay. Personal care products, comfortable clothing, and your phone chargers are a few of the things that seem pretty straightforward, and most of us wouldn’t forget them. Have you considered what you will need that the hospital doesn’t provide? After your hospital dismissal, you will likely be required to stay in town for several days/weeks to be close for your aftercare. Did you pack for those days? You will have a caregiver with you for your surgery and after your hospital stay. Did they pack a bag for themselves? We enlisted the followers on our Transplantation at Mayo Clinic Facebook page for more ideas that we might not have considered:

  • Contact solution, conditioner, lip balm, lotion and a mirror. It can be dry in the hospital, and the only mirror is usually in the bathroom.
  • Earbuds or headphones can be helpful to drown out the noise in the hospital or to listen to movies or music without disrupting your roommate or your visitors.
  • Blood pressure cuff and thermometer to use after you are dismissed.
  • Many comfortable clothing options for your time after the hospital. Chose items that don’t fit tight and are easy to remove for your many appointments.
  • Books or hobbies to help pass time in the hospital and as you wait in town before going home.

One of our followers, a caregiver for a transplant patient, said she packed a bag for the recipient but forgot to pack anything for herself. Caregivers don’t need to have the added stress of finding clothes, personal items, and medications while  trying to focus on caring for a loved one. Be sure your caregiver has everything they need before you leave for the hospital.

Emotional Preparedness

Preparing yourself emotionally for your transplant surgery is just as important as being medically and practically prepared. You might experience feelings of frustration or anxiety over waiting for an organ to become available. Not everyone on the transplant list is able to get an organ for transplant. Not knowing if and when you will receive the call can be difficult. In the case of deceased donor transplants, another person has to die in order for the organ recipient to live. This can be hard for some recipients to think about and can lead to sad or conflicting feelings for some. Your emotional preparedness is important to your transplant care team. Talk with your social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist about coping strategies you can use to prepare emotionally for the wait, the organ offer, and the transplant surgery.

For those readers who have already received a transplant, what was the most important way you prepared for the call?

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Transplant blog.

@mayoclinictransplantstaff I did all of the things mentioned but there are a couple of things I wish I had done.

My call came at around noon or slightly after. I had not yet showered but they told me to come immediately. I presume they did that to be assured that I had not eaten anything because the surgery wasn't until about 10 hours later. As we waited in my room in the transplant area we heard a helicopter come and go so we presume that it may well have been bringing my new liver. So if I had to do over I would get up every morning and shower immediately. I had not expected the call for at least two more months so was slightly lax.

The other thing I regret is that I did not keep a journal. I had planned to do that during my hospital stay but somehow the book I had purchased for that purpose got mislaid. Looking back I wish I had started a journal much earlier noting the myriad of tests and how I was feeling when I had bad days. Now things are such a blur. I think continuing to journal for a while until you regain your full health would be good too.


Those are some great ideas, @contentandwell! I love the idea of journaling through the process. I can only imagine all of the emotions a transplant patient feels while on their journey. Thank you for sharing 🙂


My husband and I kept gas in the car, had a bag ready, and practiced every possible scenario in our heads. We even called each other to be sure that our cell phones were still working! And we drove the long route to go visit family for holidays so we could remain in cell phone range....but then....we were transferred to Mayo in Rochester. We got the call at 6:42AM as we were preparing to catch shuttle at Gift of Life to go to my dialysis appointment. My mind went blank! Thankfully my husband kept a cool head as we boarded the shuttle to get there.

My husband kept all of the emails that he sent to family and friends at home, as well as the replies we received. When we returned home, he and I copied them and we filled two binders. These make a unique treasury of our journey.


Those are some great ideas, @contentandwell! I love the idea of journaling through the process. I can only imagine all of the emotions a transplant patient feels while on their journey. Thank you for sharing 🙂

Jump to this post

@kequick You are so right, the emotions are there during the journey. I was so fortunate to have been as well as I was for so long but when things went downhill very quickly and they were talking about many months before I got a transplant I wasn't sure how I could make it that long. Thankfully it happened very quickly then though.


I’m glad I created a Caring Bridge site ahead of “the call” so that I could update and communicate with everyone that wanted updates and information on my husbands condition all in one spot. Constant texts were overwhelming, so I appreciated the ease and security that Caring Bridge provided. It now acts as our journal. What an amazing journey it was!

Please sign in or register to post a reply.