You should expect to stay in the hospital for 7 to 21 days after a heart transplant. The first 24 to 48 hours will likely be in the intensive care unit (ICU). During the first few days after a transplant, you will need close follow-up to make sure that you do not get an infection and your heart is working well.
The recovery period is about 6 months. Often, your transplant team will ask you to stay fairly close to the hospital for the first 3 months. You will need to have regular check-ups with blood tests, x-rays, and echocardiograms for many years.
Fighting rejection is an ongoing process. The body's immune system considers the transplanted organ an infection and fights it. For this reason, organ transplant patients must take drugs that suppress the body's immune response. Taking medicines and following your doctor's instructions carefully is very important to preventing rejection.
Biopsies of the heart muscle are often done every month during the first 6 to 12 months after transplant, and then less often after that. This helps the doctor determine if your body is rejecting the new heart, even before you have symptoms.
You must take drugs that prevent transplant rejection for the rest of your life. You will need to understand how to take these medications, and know their side effects.
You can go back to your normal activities as soon as you feel well enough, and after talking with your doctor. However, avoid vigorous physical activity.
To make sure that you do not develop coronary disease after a transplant, you may have cardiac catheterization every year.