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Post Transplant Depression, It’s Common and There’s Help!


By Bob Aronson

gloomy gusHaving suffered from post transplant depression myself, I know of what I speak.  It hits you like a sledge hammer and keeps pounding away.  The pain isn’t physical, it’s emotional and it can be intense, so intense that some consider taking their own lives. Worst of all, few if any of your family and friends understand and some become impatoemt. dsksdddddddddddddlkkkkkkkkkkkkkksddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddlddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddccsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssjnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss with your continued mood swings. They don’t even have the most basic understanding of the disease. While their intentions are good, their advice usually isn’t. They will say things like, “Buck up, My God your’re alive, you got a new heart and you’re alive.” To that I can only say, “I would be happy to buck up if I could, but I can’t. Noone would choose to live like this You can feel useless, unnecessary, irrelevant and totally without purpose.  Some patients even feel suicidal, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  There is help.

If there’s one  message you should take away from this blog, it is this.  Depression is not your fault, you did not cause it and therefore you alone can not fix it. “Cheer up, look at the bright side,” may sound like good advice but it isn’t because it assumes you decided to feel lousy.  Who on earth would choose to be depressed?  It is sad, but true that sometimes even the people closest to you don’t understand.  They continue to hold on to the belief that you can snap out of it if you really want to.  The reality of depression just isn’t that simple.  Frankly, it is very, very complex and takes highly skilled and trained professionals to help you find your way back to the sunny side of the street.

Unfortunately if you have had or if you are going to have an organ transplant, chances are good that you might fall victim to post transplant depression. Estimates of how many patients become depressed following an organ transplant range from 10 percent all the way up to 50%, but no matter what the percentage the fact is that some people will have serious emotional struggles following their transplant.

One can easily ask, “Depression? Why on earth would anyone be depressed after their life has been saved by the donor/transplantation process?”  Well, there are a number of reasons, chief among them is the haunting feeling that someone had to die in order for you to live.  The fact is, the person who died, would have died anyway whether they were an organ donor or not and if they were, someone might gain new life as a result, but that’s logic and logic alone cannot solve the problem and help the patient. Besides, there are other issues that contribute to depression like:

  • Living with the psychological highs and lows that are sometimes not okcaused by immunosuppressives such as corticosteroids
  • The steroids you take can have the effect of a mood amplifier. In the first few weeks, especially, when the doses are highest, the medicine will wind you up and make it hard to sleep. The sudden changes in the family — and in your behavior — can be extreme.
  • Managing a complex post-transplant regimen that encompasses: (1) multiple meds and schedules, (2) monitoring vital signs, (3) exercise and dietary requirements, (4) regular medical evaluations and lab tests, and (5) lifestyle restrictions on smoking, alcohol, and other potentially harmful substances
  • Major life alterations such as transitioning from being critically ill or dying patients and family caregivers to roles that are more wellness-focused)
  • Coping with new and taxing financial and economic issues like the cost of transplant surgery, hospital stays, follow-up care, cost of drugs and health insurance.

To some that list of changes is so overwhelming as to be nearly impossible to manage.  Some have been seriously ill for such a very long time and so focused on dying that they cannot adjust to an attitude that centers on life and living.   What is even worse is that unless the patient is getting professional psychiatric help he or she may not be able to identify a single stressor that brought on their depressed state.

What is Depression?depression

Simply put, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in those things that had been of great importance.  It affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of problems. Day to day activities become ponderous and boring and patients sometimes feel their lives are not worth living.

Depression isn’t just feeling “down” and you can’t just “snap out of it.” It can require long-term treatment with either medication, psychological counseling or a combination of the two. Above all you must know that suffering from depression is not a personal weakness.  You didn’t bring it on and will power alone cannot defeat it.

Depression can occur once or several times in a lifetime and according to the Mayo Clinic (http://tinyurl.com/ouory9u) the symptoms can appear all day, every day and may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Other people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why. http://tinyurl.com/lgsq8hm

Health Concerns

(Material gathered here comes from several sources primary among them is UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing).

What happens after transplantation depends on the organ transplanted and the recipient’s specific medical situation. Most patients recover fully, return to work and resume a normal, active life after receiving a new organ. However, there is a possibility of developing unrelated health problems after transplantation. That’s why it is important to work closely with your doctor concerning your overall wellness, as well as regarding the following health concerns:

Anxiety and Depression

anxiety symptomsPatients and their families face a new lifestyle after transplantation that may cause them to feel nervous, stressed or depressed. Because emotional and psychological support is a continuing process, ask your social worker about counseling services that can help you and your family deal with these changes. Professionals can help you work through concerns about your self-image; mood swings; job planning; rehabilitation; family stresses, such as parent-child conflicts, marital conflict or changes in sexual functioning; and financial concerns, such as questions about Medicare, disability or insurance.  Any and all of the following can contribute to your depression and/or anxiety.

Diabetes

Some anti-rejection medicines are known to cause high blood sugar. Although it is typically a temporary condition after transplantation, it is more common in patients who have a family history of diabetes and patients who are overweight. It can be controlled by reducing the dose of a patient’s anti-rejection medicines or changing medications all together.

GI Upset

GI (gastrointestinal) or stomach upset is also a common complaint after a transplant. Patients on steroid therapy may be at an increased risk of developing ulcers due to increased hydrochloric acid from the stress of the procedure. Treatment of GI upset may include one or a combination of drugs that reduce acid production. In addition, people with GI upset should take several steps to reduce symptoms, including:

  • Reducing the intake of caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications that cause GI upset.
  • Eliminating carbonated drinks can help
  • And it sometimes helps to take your meds with food to decrease irritation.

Gout

Gout is a painful and potentially disabling form of arthritis. Diagnosing gout can be difficult and treatment plans vary based on a patient’s existing medical problems and medications.  Often Gout will show up in the big toe and it is very painful.  Sometimes even a bedsheet touching the Gout area will result in extreme pain.

High Cholesterol

Many immunosuppressant drugs can contribute to high cholesterol. This condition therefore affects many transplant recipients. When a patient develops high cholesterol, blood vessels, including the ones attached to the transplanted organ, become clogged, which affects the flow of blood. This slowing of blood flow can affect the success of your transplant and may even lead to heart disease. It is important to talk to your doctor about how to reduce the risk factors of heart disease, including controlling your cholesterol.

Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common immediately after
transplant. Certain anti-rejection medications, as well as the original disease, all can contribute to hypertension. Treatment of hypertension may include one or a combination of drugs, and often, as anti-rejection medicines are tapered to a maintenance dose, hypertension may decrease. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you and how to avoid high blood pressure.

Sexual Relations

Sexual concerns after transplantation are commonly experienced, yet seldom discussed or addressed during evaluation. It is therefore very important to talk with your doctor about your sexual history and concerns.

However, sexual function and interest can be related to how well your body has accepted your new organ and how realistic your expectations were for life after your transplant. A counselor can also help a couple understand the difference between pre- and post-transplant problems. Often, support groups can be very helpful in this regard.

Additionally, in sexual relations, as in all issues, recipients must remember that they are immune suppressed and subject to many kinds of infections. In fact, some infections in recently transplanted patients can be potentially life threatening. Consequently, it is important to consider the following points:

  • The sharing of saliva during kissing can expose both partners to active diseases, such as colds or other viruses.
  • Condoms don’t prevent diseases that are spread by contact between the area surrounding the penis and external genitals.
  • The risk of contracting infectious diseases though oral sex is possible, especially if ejaculation occurs or if there are any sores or wounds on either partner.

Shingles

People with weakened immune systems, such as transplant recipients treated with immunosuppressive drugs, risk developing shingles. Shingles is a painful infection of the central nervous system caused by the Varicella virus that causes a blistering rash and severe burning pain, tingling or extreme sensitivity to the skin and is usually limited to one side of the body. The severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be significantly reduced by immediate treatment with antiviral drugs.  You should also ask your doctor about getting the Shingles vaccine.

Sometimes our own irresponsible behavior is responsible for feelings of depression or inadequacy.  It has been established that noncompliance appears to be relatively common during the first several years after transplantation. That means some patients just don’t take the right amount of medication at the right time, if they take it at all. Furthermore, compliance in most areas of the medical regimen worsens over the first year after the transplant just as it does for most patients who begin new medical therapies.  For example:

  • Up to 20% of heart transplant recipients and 50% of kidney transplant recipients have been found to be noncompliant with prescribed immunosuppressant medications during a given 12-month period in the early post-transplant years
  • 5% to 26% of heart transplant recipients smoke at least once after being transplanted; no study has determined what proportion of these patients become regular smokers.
  • 11% to 48% of liver transplant recipients return to some level of alcohol consumption during the first year post-transplantation.
As a result of noncompliance patients are likely to experience rejection symptoms or actual rejection and, of course when this happens patients experience anxiety and/or depression.   http://tinyurl.com/qjlc48n

Treatment options

time to healResearchers at Henry Ford Hospital have found that emotional closeness between transplant patients and their caregivers helps reduce depression and anxiety after surgery.  While this study was about liver transplant patients, it is likely that the conclusions probably have universal application.

“People with close networks and good support recover faster after liver transplant and have less depression and anxiety at six months after transplant,” says Anne Eshelman, Ph.D., Henry Ford Health System Behavioral Health Services, lead author of the study.

“These findings suggest caregiving relationships as a target for psycho-therapeutic intervention among patients with end-stage liver disease.”

Study results were presented at the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine in Washington D.C., held by the International Society of Behavioral Medicine and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

The study looked at 74 liver transplant surgery candidates and their primary caregivers. Transplant patients were surveyed before surgery and at a six-month follow-up. Caregivers rated the degree of closeness they felt in their relationship to the patient.

The sample was divided into groups with caregivers reporting maximum closeness or less closeness.

For patients with end-stage liver disease, depression and anxiety improve after liver transplant, but the study found that these changes are not as great for individuals with emotionally distant caregiving relationships.

“If you live with someone who loves you, the quality of care they provide may be much better, they may be more encouraging, you may want to please them and recuperate faster so you can spend quality time with them,” says Dr. Eshelman.  “Caregivers who are not close, may provide the basic requirements, but don’t help give someone a reason to live and look to the future.”

The study results also suggested that emotional closeness was critical for affective improvement in men, but less so for women, though interpretation is limited by a small sample size, explained Dr. Eshelman.

“Men who had adequate number of support people, but did not have close support, were still depressed and anxious at follow up, compared to those who had closer support,” says Dr. Eshelman. “Other literature shows that women have wider support, more friends and family they are connected to than men, and if the primary support person is not that close, they probably rely on the other people such as girlfriends.”
The study was funded by Henry Ford Transplant Institute. http://tinyurl.com/q4bwqzs

Treatments for Depression

From Web MD

If you are diagnosed with depression, here’s some good news: Excellent treatment options are available to you.

Many people use a combination of treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy. For depression that doesn’t respond to standard treatment, non-drug approaches can be effective, either alone or used with other treatments.

Learn more here about the most common approaches to treating depression.

Talk Therapy for Depression

Talking with a trained therapist is one of the best treatments. Some people choose to be in therapy for several months to work on a few key issues. Other people find it helpful to continue in therapy for years, gradually working through larger problems. The choice is up to you and your therapist. Here are some common types of therapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapyhelps you see how behaviors and the way you think about things plays a role in your depression. Your therapist will help you change some of these unhealthy patterns.
  • Interpersonal therapyfocuses on your relationships with other people and how they affect you. Your therapist will also help you pinpoint and change unhealthy habits.
  • Problem-solving therapyfocuses on the specific problems you face and helps you find solutions.

Medicines for Depression

Medicines are the other key treatment for depression. If one antidepressantdepression meds doesn’t work well, you might try a similar one or a different kind. Your doctor might also try changing the dose. In some cases, he or she might recommend taking more than one medication for your depression. There are now many different antidepressants that your doctor can choose from. The entire listing can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/p4yaq4b

Just keep in mind that recovery is a process that may need constant adjustment and takes time.

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Thank you donors and donor families

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,200 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes. Then, when registered, tell your family about your decision so there is no confusion when the time comes.

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So You Need an Organ Transplant. Here’s What You Need To Know.


By Bob Aronson

(Founder of this blog site and 2007 heart transplant recipient)

This blog is longer than most because it offers one-stop access to information that should save you hours of Internet research.  We hope this single click will lead you to the answers you need and deserve. .  

When You First Learn That You Need an Organ Transplant

cartoonThere is no news that is much more disturbing than being told you are suffering irreversible organ failure and that the only solution is a transplant.  The news becomes even more difficult to bear when you learn that there is a critical shortage of transplantable organs.  Most of us meet that news with stunned silence at first.  The tsunami of thoughts related to organ failure renders our brains incapable of developing a rational response or even asking the right questions.  Usually it is only after leaving the Doctor’s office that the cobwebs begin to clear, and the fear of dying starts to generate questions.  They are a trickle at first and then become a torrent as broad as Niagara falls and as long as Angel Falls.

The questions start with the first news and seem to multiply as you learn about organ donation, about lifestyle while waiting for an organ, getting on the list, the surgery, paying for it, recovery and living with a transplant.  And – because everyone is different everyone has different questions.

As a heart recipient I’ve been through that gauntlet and struggled to find answers by spending endless hours on the internet, asking questions of physicians and others and reviewing my own experience.  Below you will find a few resources to get you started.  This is not a complete list, it doesn’t even come close but it does give you links to some resources that will at least head you in the right direction.

**This blog was developed for U.S. audiences. While there may be some applicability in other countries, each nation has different laws, requirements and approaches to donation/transplantation issues.   Make no decisions until you check with experts in your country. 

Transplantable Organs and Tissue

First it is important to understand which organs and tissues are transplantable.  Here’s the list.  Organs include the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, and small intestines.  Transplantable tissues include blood, blood vessels, bones, bone marrow, cartilage, connective tissues, eyes, heart valves, and skin.

Most organs are recovered from deceased donors, but in the case of kidneys and a part of the liver donation can be made by living donors to specific individuals.

The following resources should either provide you with the information you seek or at least lead you in the proper direction.

If you are a kidney, heart or liver transplant patient one of the very best Give thanks givee lifeinformation resources available is, “The Transplant Experience.”  It was developed by Astellas Pharma US, Inc.  which is a manufacturer of “Prograf,“ an anti-rejection drug.   You will find answers to most of your questions on this site, but there are other very useful links as well that we include in this posting.   http://tinyurl.com/q6heovg

Another excellent source is Web MD.  http://tinyurl.com/3vst3cf

And — still another from the Mayo Clinic this stirring “Nightline” video about the process.  http://tinyurl.com/nqzomf6

Organ Donation Key Myths and Facts

According to the American Transplant Association (ATA) (http://tinyurl.com/m42br82 )  There are over 123,000 people awaiting organ transplants in the United States, but only about 28,000 are performed each year.  That’s because the supply lags far behind the demand.  While over 90% of Americans believe in donating organs only about 40% ever get around to it.  The result is that about 7,000 men, women and children die each year waiting for an organ that never comes.

Why don’t people donate?  There are as many answers as there are people, but some believe that if you are in an accident and brought to an ER the medical people will let you die in order to get your organs.  That is simply not true.   ER teams are not even associated with transplant teams and most hospitals aren’t transplant centers anyway.  The ethics that bind medical professionals demand that they do everything possible to save your life and no thought, none, is given to taking your organs.  The ER people aren’t even the ones who make that decision.

The ATA says there are other myths as well.  For example:

Myth:

If you are rich or a celebrity, you can move up the waiting list more quickly.

Fact:

Severity of illness, time spent waiting, blood type and match potential are the factors that determine your place on the waiting list. A patient’s income, race or social status is never taken into account in the allocation process.

Myth:

After donating an organ or tissue, a closed casket funeral is the only option.

Fact:

Organ procurement organizations treat each donor with the utmost respect and dignity, allowing a donor’s body to be viewed in an open casket funeral.

Myth:

My religion doesn’t support organ and tissue donation.

Fact:

Most major religions support organ and tissue donation. Typically, religions view organ and tissue donation as acts of charity and goodwill. Donor Alliance urges you to discuss organ and tissue donation with your spiritual advisor if you have concerns on this issue.

 Myth:

My family will be charged for donating my organs.

Fact:

Costs associated with recovering and processing organs and tissues for transplant are never passed on to the donor family. The family may be expected to pay for medical expenses incurred before death is declared and for expenses involving funeral arrangements.

Organ Donation Facts

  •  On average, 21 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
  • Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 12 minutes.
  • organ donoars save livesSeven percent of people on the waiting list—more than 6,500 each year—die before they are able to receive a transplant.
  •  One deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save and enhance more than 100 lives through the lifesaving and healing gift of tissue donation.
  •  Organ recipients are selected based primarily on medical need, location and compatibility.
  •  Over 617,000 transplants have occurred in the U.S. since 1988.
  •  Organs that can be donated after death are the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestines. Tissues include corneas, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons, ligaments and bones.
  •  The cornea is the most commonly transplanted tissue. More than 40,000 corneal transplants take place each year in the United States.
  •  A healthy person can become a ‘living donor’ by donating a kidney, or a part of the liver, lung, intestine, blood or bone marrow.
  •  More than 6,000 living donations occur each year. One in four donors is not biologically related to the recipient.
  •  The buying and selling of human organs is not allowed for transplants in America, but it is allowed for research purposes.
  •  In most countries, it is illegal to buy and sell human organs for transplants, but international black markets for organs are growing in response to the increased demand around the world. Learn more about Transplant Tourism.

Qualifying for a transplant

Transplant eligibility depends on the organ you need.  Individual transplant qualifyingcenters may have different criteria but the links provided here will give you some idea.

Heart Transplant Qualification

University of Maryland http://tinyurl.com/klcjbns

 Kidney Transplant Qualification

Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.  http://tinyurl.com/nefho9x

 Liver Transplant Qualification

American Liver Foundation. http://tinyurl.com/cfnh7ro

Lung Transplant Qualification

Mayo Clinic.  http://tinyurl.com/lkmbwsx

 Pancreas Transplant Qualification

Johns Hopkins.  http://tinyurl.com/qdn9sbo

 Small Intestine transplant qualification

Cleveland Clinic.  http://tinyurl.com/m5ugaul

 Getting on the U.S. National Organ Transplant List.

the waiting listUniversity of California Davis Health System. . All organ transplants in the U.S. are coordinated by the United Network for Organ Sharing(UNOS) in Richmond, Virginia. It is a blind list with no names attached to patient records to ensure the fairness of organ and tissue allocation. . http://tinyurl.com/lhwywwv

 Living with a transplant

Transplant living.  http://tinyurl.com/k2tcpc2

Paying for the Transplants and Aftercare (Financial Assistance)

(This is a lengthy section that provides a great deal of information. If you are concerned about how to pay for your transplant and follow up care read it very carefully)

Because there is a shortage of organs the odds of getting a transplant are not good, There are a lot of factors that influence whether any one person will get an available organ and one of them is the ability to pay.  Unfortunately our system is heavily weighted toward those who either have insurance or an independent ability to finance the surgery and the aftercare. A transplant and the aftercare and medication for the first year after the surgery can cost as much as a million dollars.  Sometimes even those with the ability to pay need some assistance.

Transplant Living is a project of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit organization that maintains the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

UNOS is the private government contractor that facilities all organ transplants in the United States.  The information in his blog is copied from their website which provides a wealth of information about the entire donation/transplantation process.  It is one of the most comprehensive resources available.  Bob’s Newheart thanks them for compiling this information and for its willingness to share it with you via our blog.

About Anti-rejection Drugs

Almost everyone who receives an organ transplant has to take immunosuppressant drugs. The body recognizes a transplanted organ as a foreign mass. This triggers a response by the body’s immune system to attack it.  These drugs diminish that attack and allow the organ to continue to function, but there are other effects as well.  This lHealthline ink will take you to a comprehensive review of these life-saving drugs..   http://www.healthline.com/health/immunosuppressant-drugs#Overview1

Funding Sources

financial aidMost transplant programs have social workers and financial coordinators who can help you with the financial details of your transplant. Depending on the structure at your center, one or both will help you develop a strategy.

Common funding sources to help with the costs of transplants include:

Note: This information is only a brief summary and is not intended to provide complete information. Ask your transplant financial team and your insurance provider or employee benefits officer for the latest information or help.

Private Health Insurance

You or your family may have health insurance coverage through an employer or a personal policy. Although many insurance companies offer optional coverage for transplant costs, the terms and benefits of insurance vary widely. Read your policy carefully and contact your insurance company if you have questions about how much of your costs they will pay, including your lab tests, medications and follow-up care after you leave the hospital.

Some insurance questions to consider:

  • Is my transplant center in-network with my insurance company?
  • If my transplant center is out-of network, do I have an out-of-network benefit for transplant?
  • What deductibles will apply?
  • What are my co-payments for doctor visits, hospitalizations and medications?
  • Does my plan require prior authorization?
  • Who needs to get prior authorization?

Regardless of how much your insurance covers, you are responsible for any costs not paid by your insurance, unless you have made other arrangements. If you are responsible for paying any or all of your insurance premiums, be sure to pay them on time so that you do not lose your coverage.

Transplant center social workers and financial coordinators can also help you with the information you need. They can contact your insurance company to check on your benefits and explain your coverage in more detail.

Experimental and Investigative Procedures

If your transplant center asks you to be involved in any experimental procedures or studies, be sure to ask your center or insurance company if your  policy will cover the payment. It is important to know that you do not have to agree to be involved in any experimental procedures or investigational studies. If you still have questions, contact your insurance company, your employer’s benefits office or your state insurance commissioner.

Tips

  • Keep copies of all medical bills, insurance forms and payments (or canceled checks).
  • Ask your insurance company about pre-certification or using a specific provider.
  • Follow the rules set forth by your insurance company so that your benefits will not be decreased.
  • Always keep a log (who you talked to, date and time and questions answered) of your conversations with anyone in the hospital’s billing office or your insurance company.
  • Make sure to keep your transplant center informed about your insurance, especially if you have more than one insurance company.
  • For more helpful tips, see the Financial Q&A.

COBRA Extended Employer Group Coverage

If you are insured by an employer group health plan and you must leave your job or reduce your work hours, you may qualify for extended coverage through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985). This federal law requires certain group health plans to extend coverage for 18 to 36 months after benefits end. This requirement is limited to companies employing 20 or more people. You pay the full cost of the premiums for the group health plan. Learn more by contacting your employer’s benefits office or visit the federal Department of Labor Web site >

Health Insurance Marketplace

Also known as the health insurance “exchange,” the marketplace is a set of government-regulated and standardized health care plans in the United States. Learn more at www.healthcare.gov >

Medicare

MedicareMedicare is a federal health insurance program available to people who are 65 or older, disabled or have end stage renal disease (ESRD).

Medicare, like most private insurance plans, does not always pay 100% of your medical expenses. In most cases, it pays hospitals and health providers according to a fixed fee schedule, which may be less than the actual cost. You must pay deductibles and other expenses. Medicare currently offers coverage for transplant of:

  • kidneys
  • kidney-pancreas
  • pancreas, either after a kidney transplant or for certain indications

If you already have Medicare due to age or disability, Medicare also covers other transplants:

  • heart, in certain circumstances
  • lung
  • heart-lung
  • liver, including transplants necessitated by hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
  • intestines

To receive full Medicare benefits for a transplant, you must go to a Medicare-approved transplant program. These programs meet Medicare criteria for the number of transplants they perform and the quality of patient outcomes.

If you have questions about Medicare eligibility, benefits, or transplant programs, contact your local Social Security office, or Medicare at 800-633-4227 or www.medicare.gov.

Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

Medicare Part D covers costs for prescription drugs. To get this coverage you must choose and join a Medicare drug plan. For more information call (800) MEDICARE ([800] 633-4227)/ TTY: (877) 486-2048 or visit www.medicare.gov (click on Medicare Basics >Part D).

MediGap Plans

Many people on Medicare also choose to buy a private “MediGap” policy to pay for costs not covered by Medicare. Check with a local insurance agent or go to www.medicare.gov (click on Resource Locator>MediGap).

State Health Insurance Assistance Program

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a national program that offers one-on-one counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families. Your transplant social worker or financial coordinator can provide information on your states SHIP program, or learn more now >

Medicaid

MedicaidMedicaid is a federal and state government health insurance program for certain low-income individuals. Each state determines criteria for:

  • eligibility
  • benefits
  • reimbursement rates

Most Medicaid programs only cover transplants performed in their state, unless there are no centers that can transplant that organ. For more information, contact your local human services department or the financial coordinator at your transplant center.

Charitable Organizations

Charitable organizations offer a range of support, from providing information about diseases, organs and transplants, to encouraging research into these diseases and treatments.

Also, although it is very unlikely that one organization can cover all of the costs for an individual patient, some organizations provide limited financial assistance through grants and direct funding. For example, an organization may only be able to help with direct transplant costs, food and lodging or medication costs.

Advocacy Organizations

Advocacy organizations advise transplant patients on financial matters. If you agree to a financial arrangement with an advocacy organization, it is important to make sure that the funds are available in a manner that suits your needs. You may even want legal assistance in reviewing a written agreement before signing. Your bank can also help you review the arrangement.

Every advocacy organization should be able to provide supporting information and background documentation to prove they are legally recognized to help those in need. Brochures and other background information should never serve as substitutes for these documents. Ask advocacy organizations to provide you with copies of the following documents:

  • a current federal or state certification as a charitable, non-profit organization
  • a current by-laws, constitution and/or articles of incorporation
  • a financial statement for the preceding year, preferably one that
  • an audit report from an independent organization
  • references

Fundraising Campaigns

fundraiser

Even if you have coverage for transplant, fundraising is a good path to take to assist with costs not covered by insurance, such as prescriptions and temporary housing. It is also a great way for your family and friends to be involved with your care.

Asking for help is perfectly okay, and you may find that many of your loved ones will step forward to support your fundraising campaign. If you do decide to raise funds, it is best to do it before your transplant, as the money raised will help you budget for your medical expenses.

Before you begin seeking donations, it may be necessary to check with your city/county governments, legal advisor or transplant team about the many legal and financial laws and guidelines.

If you decide to use public fundraising as a way to cover your expenses, you may want to contact local newspapers, radio or television stations to help support your cause. In addition, try to enlist the support of local merchants and other sponsors to promote or contribute to your events. Your friends, neighbors, religious groups, local chapters of volunteer or service groups and other community groups may also be able to help.

It is also very important to understand that the funds you raise only be used for your transplant-related expenses and donated money sometimes has to be counted as taxable income. In cases in which money must be counted as income, you may lose your Medicaid eligibility.

These organizations can help you plan your fundraising campaign:

Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA)

Help HOPE Live  (Formerly the National Transplant Assistance Fund (NTAF)

National Foundation for Transplants

TRICARE (formerly Champus) and Veterans Administration

Government funding for families of active-duty, retired, or deceased military personnel may be available through TRICARE. TRICARE standard may share the cost of most organ transplants and combinations. TRICARE also covers living donor kidney, liver, and lung transplants. Patients must receive pre-authorization from the TRICARE medical director and meet TRICARE selection criteria. Pre-authorization is based on a narrative summary submitted by the attending transplant physician. For more information about TRICARE, contact the health benefits advisor at your nearest military health care facility, call the TRICARE Benefits Service Branch at (303) 676-3526 or learn more now >

 

The National Marrow Donor Program is also a resource for information on where to get financial assistance.  They offer this advice.

Transplant insurance coverage.  These items may not be covered by your insurance.  Check to be sure.

You or someone you know might need an organ/tissue transplant you must show an ability to pay before you will be accepted by most transplant centers.  Most people rely on insurance but insurance policies differ from one company to the next.  Be sure about what your policy covers, talk to your plans benefits manager or to the hospital social worker to get a clear idea of what is covered.

It is very likely that the following items are NOT COVERED by your health insurance company.  This information was generated by the National Marrow Donor Program.  http://tinyurl.com/b8pb4s4 

You may want to ask if the following items are covered by your specific health insurance plan:

  • Testing to find a matched unrelated or related donor
  • Donor costs
  • Transplants for a rare diagnosis
  • Travel and lodging expenses to and from the transplant center for patient and/or caregiver
  • Food costs while staying near transplant center
  • Parking costs
  • Prescriptions for post-transplant discharge or outpatient medications
  • Office visits coverage
  • Home health care
  • Psychiatric coverage
  • IV injections
  • Clinical trials
  • Sperm/egg storage
  • Insurance premiums when patient is not employed
  • Fees for post-transplant home preparation (carpet and drapery cleaning, replacing filters on heaters, air conditioning cleaning)
  • Change in cost of living after transplant (different food needs, for example)
  • Child-care costs

If your insurance does not cover all of your costs related to transplant, you may be eligible for Financial Assistance for Transplant Patients.

Financial assistance for transplant patients

Your transplant center social worker will help you find financial aid that is available through Be The Match® and other organizations.

Planning for transplant costs

Applying for financial aid programs may include many steps. Your transplant center social worker will help you find financial aid that is available through Be The Match® and other organizations, and help you complete the applications.

Be The Match financial aid programs

financial aidBe The Match financial assistance is available for patients who are searching for a donor on the Be The Match Registry®, or who have had a bone marrow or cord blood transplant with a donor from the registry.  Financial assistance from these programs can help you pay for the cost of a donor search and for some post-transplant expenses. Talk with your transplant center financial coordinator to see if you are eligible for these programs.

*Funds for financial aid programs are available through the generous contributions to Be The Match.

Transplant costs worksheet can help you calculate the transplant costs not covered by insurance.

Search Assistance Funds

Search Assistance Funds can help pay the costs not covered by insurance for searching Be The Match Registry of unrelated adult donors and cord blood units. If you are eligible, Be The Match will notify the transplant center. This allows your donor search process to begin as quickly as possible.

To be eligible:

  • You are searching for an unrelated donor or cord blood unit from the Be The Match Registry.
  • Your transplant center has determined you do not have enough insurance coverage to cover the donor search costs.
  • You must be a U.S. resident.

Transplant Support Assistance Funds

Transplant Support Assistance Funds help pay for some costs during the first 12 months after transplant that are not covered by your insurance. These funds can be helpful with costs related to:

  • Temporary housing, if you and your family or caregiver needs to relocate for the transplant.
  • Food for you and your family or caregiver.
  • Parking and gas for ground transportation.
  • Co-pays for prescriptions and clinic visits.

To be eligible:

  • You have had a transplant using an unrelated donor or cord blood unit from the Be The Match Registry.
  • You must be within the first 12 months of your transplant.
  • You meet financial eligibility criteria.
  • You must be a U.S. resident.

ExploreBMT is a resource to connect you and your family with financial support and information from organizations you can trust.

Other financial aid programs

There are several more financial aid programs available to help you with your transplant costs. Ask your transplant center social worker to help you identify and apply for programs that you may be eligible for, including Be The Match financial aid programs.

The importance of Caregivers in Transplantation

four kinds of peopleOne cannot overestimate the importance of having a compassionate, organized and committed caregiver following a transplant.  For a while at least, the patient may be able to do very little for him or herself and will need varying degrees of care.  At first it will be important to make sure the patient gets to Clinic appointments, takes the appropriate medications at the right times, attends rehab sessions and follows dietary recommendations.  Many transplant centers won’t consider the surgery unless such a person is in place and committed to the patient.  This link should help those who agree to perform this most important function  http://tinyurl.com/lnq4vk9

While this may be a lengthy piece it only scratches the surface of resources available to transplant patients and their families.  If you have suggestions for additions, deletions or edits please contact bob@baronson.org the founder of this blog site.

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All the views

Thank you donors and donor families

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes.

Critical Information About Managing your Medications


Reprinted and reformatted from WikiHow

With Additions by Bob Aronson

Have you just started a new medicinal regimen that requires you to take pills every day? Remembering to take your medication every day can be a chore, but it is also very important for your health. If you’re forgetful or simply have too many medications to track, then maybe this guide can help you remember to get the job done.

Start using a calendar. You can purchase a paper calendar and hang it in your room and teach yourself to look at it every day, making and leaving notes accordingly. You can also search through free electronic calendars on the Internet or use calendar software that may have come with your computer. Some of these allow you to add notes and automatically send you reminders by email or by SMS (i.e. text messaging).

Set visual reminders.

  • Put the medication close to something you need to deal with on a daily basis anyway. For example, if you take your medication in the morning, make sure that before going to bed at night, you place it next to the coffee pot, if you make coffee in the morning. Or, you can attach your medication bottle or pill box to your toothbrush with Velcro.
  • Make it part of your routine. If you take it every morning, make it a habit to take it as soon as you step out of the shower, or as soon as you get out of bed.
  • You can purchase sticky notes to leave in your kitchen, your car, or anywhere that you frequently visit. For medication that is stored in the fridge, you should paste a post-it note on the fridge door (or on your coffee pot) that says Take Pills.
  • Remember medication that needs to be taken with a meal, by keeping it right on the table, in front of the place that you eat.
  • If you are on your computer often, you might create a text file on your desktop that contains a list of things that you need to do. You can search the Internet for “electronic” sticky notes that you can place directly on your desktop, rather than purchasing paper ones. These programs will often allow you to set timers and reminders directly to the notes to flash or emit sounds accordingly.
  • If you have a complex regimen, write a list with the medication, time and date and tape the list to the mirror in your bathroom. You can also print this on a grid and check off each medication after you take it.
  • Set an auditory reminder. This is a common and fairly effective way to remind yourself to take your medicine. Most cell phones have an alarm function that allows you to set a “daily” alarm time where it rings. Choose a tone that will remind you that you need to take your medicine. If you do not own a cell phone, you might set your alarm clock to go off at a particular time each day for the same effect. Another alternative is to buy a digital watch and set the alarm to go off as many times per day as you need to take medication. A small digital kitchen timer with a numeric keyboard can be useful. Be sure to get one that can be set for hours, not just minutes and seconds. As soon as the alarm goes off, immediately take your medication to reinforce the habit. Saying “Oh, I’ll do it in a few minutes” can lead to repeated forgetfulness and defeat the purpose of having an alarm.
  • Sort your medication. Place all your medications, including your daily dose of vitamins on your kitchen counter. As you take one pill, close the bottle, and place it to the left of the counter, making two piles. Do the same for each pill you take. Remember that the ones you need to take are in front of you. The ones you have already taken are to the left of you. After you are finished taking all your pills for the day, place all those on the left hand side back into the kitchen cabinet. Now you will know that all of your pills have been taken. Pre-sorting the pills into a plastic container designed for this purpose (a pill box or medicine box) is another way to avoid taking the same medication twice by accident. If that compartment is empty, you know you took the meds. Pill sorters come in different sizes and different colors. Aim to have enough to sort two weeks of meds at a time.
  • Adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy. In other words, take half of your medicine and keep it in a place other than your household, such as your office at work. If you happen to forget to take your medicine in the morning, you can easily access your medicine at work.
  • Be mindful of your medicine’s storing conditions, especially if you plan to keep your pills in your car’s glove box on a hot summer day.
  • Get another person to remind you. Have a friend or loved one to remind you to take your medicine, or to ask you if you remembered to take your medicine.

Tips

  • Use your phone calendar to set recurring reminders daily. It’s a more subtle way to be reminded. If you use your company phone/Outlook, make sure you mark the appointment as “private” and keep the reminder description generic to protect your privacy

Be careful when deciding on reminders. If you get too comfortable with them (such as a note on your fridge or by your pill box) you may be more likely to overlook it or ignore it.

  • Not all medication is available or legal in all countries so you should check ahead. Any medication that may have a controlled substance may not be allowed in some countries so make sure you bring your prescription bottle and if possible a photocopy of your physician’s prescription.
  • If you choose to set an alarm on your cell phone, be sure that it is a tone that you can easily associate with taking your medicine, so that you do not become too accustomed to hearing a soft tone. Or, if all else fails, set it to the same tone as your normal ring tone.
  • Remember to take your medication with you when you go on holiday. When you pack your toothbrush, pack the medications you take also.  IMPORTANT!  NEVER CHECK MEDICATION WITH YOUR BAGGAGE.  ALWAYS KEEP YOUR MEDS WITH YOU IN CASE YOUR BAGGAGE GETS LOST.
  • If on vacation, pack your original, pharmacy-labeled medication bottles or keep a detailed list in your purse or wallet.  I have attached a sample list to the end of this blog.
  • Your meds list should also include critical medical information like insurance, physicians and clinics, and medical conditions. If it happens that you need emergency medical care, this will help the care providers to quickly determine what medications you take and how and why you take them, should you not be able to remember them or not speak for yourself. It is difficult, time-consuming and sometimes impossible for health care providers to identify unlabeled pills. For the same reason, do not dump different medications into the same bottle.
  • Before you go on a long vacation, ask your doctor to give you an extra prescription for your pills, so that if you run out, lose them, or spill them, you can have the prescription filled at any drugstore.
  • If you are taking medication for a serious condition such as heart disease, wear a Medical Alert tag, necklace or bracelet listing the name(s) of your illness and the medications you use to treat it/each. Also list any potentially hazardous interactions and allergies.
  • If one or more of your medications causes photo sensitivity, be sure to put on sunscreen before leaving your house, no matter what it looks like outside; you’d be surprised how little light is required to get a full-blown sunburn!

Warnings

  • Be mindful of making a mental note to yourself when you take your medicine. Forgetting to take your medication is one thing, doubling your dosage because you forgot that you’d already taken your medication for today is another. You could make a box next to your “Remember Pills”-note, tick it off when you’ve taken it.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, read the instructions that come with your medication carefully. Don’t assume that you should take your dose anyway- although this is the case for most, it can be different for others. If you have trouble reading, ask the pharmacist to explain the dosage directions.
  • Before leaving the pharmacy, check to make sure that the pills in the bag are the pills that you use. Pharmacists make mistakes also.
  • When leaving your medicine bottles around to remind you to take them, be careful if you have children so you do not leave the pills in a easy spot for a child to grab.
  • Be aware that certain prescription medications have a high potential for addiction or abuse. If you find yourself taking more of a medication than prescribed, call your doctor immediately to talk about the change.
  • Some medications, such as those classed as controlled substances, may not be appropriate to leave around the house. Place them in a locked cabinet, box or drawer, and do not move them from one building to the next. Try to not let others know that you are on such medications and avoid taking them in public. It’s not uncommon for people to steal certain medications, either to abuse themselves or to sell to others with similar intent.
  • It’s a Federal offence to transfer a controlled substance to anyone other than the person to whom it was prescribed (you). If you do wind up victim of a theft, report it immediately to avoid potential prosecution.
  • Some medications have ‘black box warnings’. This means that when taken incorrectly, or by those with certain conditions, fatalities may arise. Place these and other such medications in a safe location and call your doctor right away if you think you might have accidentally taken more than prescribed.
  • Sometimes the pharmacist gives out a stranger’s prescriptions by accident, read the label carefully.

Sample Medical Info Sheet to Carry With You

HEART TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT

Best Hospital USA

Immunosuppressed

John Doe

Birth date 2-17-1950

9180 orchard lane anycity, USA

Home 555-555-5555  Cell phone 555-555-5555

SS # 555-55-5555 Spouse; Jane Doe; Cell phone 555-555-5555

Physicians:

Primary, Dr.Sawbones Anycity USA

Transplant Pulmonologist,  Dr. Breatheasy best clinic USA

Transplant Cardiologists, Dr. Heartthump best clinic USA

Transplant Coordinator:  Nurse Jane best clinic USA

 Pharmacy: 

Primary:  Best Pharmacy USS

Secondary: Second best pharmacy USA

 Health insurance:

Primary Medicare part A, Hospital, part B, Medical

Secondary, AARP Medicare Supplement .   

Medicare part D Prescriptions, AARP Medicare RxEnhanced

 Allergies:Penicillin, cats, all seafood/fish, mold, dust.  

 Blood Type: B Positive

 Heart related medications

  • Anti-rejection Cyclosporine 200 mg  twice a day
  • Anti-rejection — Cellcept  1000 mg twice a day
  • Anti-cholesterol — Prevastatin 20 mg once a day
  • Blood Thinner – Aspirin 81 mg once a day
  • Blood Pressure – Amlodipine Besylate 5 mg twice a day

Other medications

  • Reflux – Omeprozole  (Prilosec) two 40 mg twice a day
  • Thyroid — Levothyroxine .088 MG once a day  (upon arising)
  • Asthma – ProAir albuterol  rescue inhaler as needed
  • COPD – Foradilinhale one capsule twice a day
  • COPD – Spiriva inhale one capsule once a day (upon arising)
  • Depression-Remeron  7.5 –mg once a day-

 Supplements

—  Calcium – 600 mg tablet with Vitamin D twice a day

—  Multi-vitamin– one tablet once a day

Medical conditions

  • Asthma, hay fever, allergies diagnosed 1941
  • Non-smoker
  • COPD diagnosed October 2000
  • Restless leg syndrome diagnosed 1996
  • Chronic lower back pain

Surgeries

  • Heart transplantBest Hospital 
  • Anywhere USA August 2007
  • Cholecystectomy 1994
  • Total left knee replacement 1998

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

  • You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.
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