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Liver Transplant Update | Penn Medicine

Friday, January 23, 2015

Share Your Story

As the most experienced liver transplant program in the greater Philadelphia region, we understand that some of the most helpful support and encouragement for people on the liver transplant waiting list comes from hearing from Penn recipients -- people who know firsthand the challenges that liver transplant can present. They know how feels to be on the transplant waiting list and what it's like to get the call that an organ may be available.

While this support often happens at the weekly Liver Transplant Support Group meetings, not everyone is able to attend the meetings. To help connect our pre-transplant patients with people who have had successful liver transplants, we'd like to invite you to share your liver transplant story in our “Share Your Story” series.

We’d love to hear from any post-transplant patients and their family or friends who may want to share some motivating pointers for those who are waiting. If you're a recipient, readers are often encouraged to hear how you coped with waiting and what life is like after transplant. If you're a caregiver, tips for taking care of yourself while taking care of a loved one are always helpful, as well as unique insights you have from supporting someone on a transplant journey.

These articles are generally 400 to 800 words and contain photos to help readers connect quickly to your story.

You can submit your story to Denise DuPont, manager of Outreach and Communications, by emailing it to or mailing a printed copy to:

Denise DuPont
Penn Transplant Institute
1 Founders
3400 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

If you have a story to tell but writing isn’t something you love to do, call Denise at 215-873-7983. She can talk to you about what you'd like to share and work with you to capture your story in writing.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Transplant Nurse's Day Essay Contest 2015

At the Penn Transplant Institute, we know that transplant nurses play a critical role in every patient’s transplant journey. Providing personalized, excellent care is a hallmark of the Penn Liver Transplant Program. Every patient’s story features a different way their transplant nurses have partnered with them before transplant, at the time of transplant or during the post-transplant recovery phase. One way you can shine a spotlight on a Penn transplant nurse who provided exceptional care is to submit an essay to the International Transplant Nurses Society’s (ITNS) 2015 Transplant Nurse’s Day Essay Contest.

To help celebrate the special contributions of transplant nurses, the ITNS created this essay contest in conjunction with the annual Transplant Nurses Day Celebration. This year, Transplant Nurses Day is April 15, and the ITNS Essay Contest is an excellent opportunity to nominate an ITNS transplant nurse who has made a difference in your life.

Participation in the essay contest is open to any transplant patient currently, or formerly, under the care of a transplant nurse, who is a member of ITNS. This can be a nurse who cared for you on Rhoads 4, as well as a pre- or post-transplant nurse or nurse practitioner. Not sure if the nurse you have in mind is a member of ITNS? Just ask! Send a quick email through MyPennMedicine directly to the Penn Transplant team member who you’d like to nominate.

The theme of this year’s contest is "Why I Celebrate My Transplant Nurse." Judges will be looking reviewing your essay to learn:
  • What is unique about your nominee? 
  • Why is he or she important to you or your family, or both? 
  • How did your nominee make a difference in your life? 
The essay should be 300 to 500 words in length and be formatted to fit on one page.

The winning essay will be featured in a future issue of the ITNS Insider newsletter. The winning nurse will receive a recognition award and a letter will be sent to his or her supervisor. He or she will also be acknowledged on the ITNS website and in an ITNS E-Updates membership email.

To submit your entry you’ll need the following:
  • A copy of the completed entry form
  • A 300-to-500-word essay focusing on the topic "Why I Celebrate My Transplant Nurse." Each essay must be original, authentic, unpublished, and the sole property of the entrant. 
  • Your personal information should be printed in the top-right corner of the essay: 
    • First and last name 
    • Address 
    • Phone 
    • Email 
The deadline for submission is March 13, 2015. Entries can be emailed to or mailed to:
8735 W. Higgins Road, Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60631

For more information, call the International Transplant Nurses Society at 847.375.6340. Information can also be found online at

Friday, January 9, 2015

Safely Shedding the Holiday Pounds

It’s right about this time of the year, when the holidays are behind us and the extra calories from our celebrations start to add up, that we start to notice our clothes might be a bit more snug than we would prefer.

If getting rid of a few extra pounds is on your mind, here are some considerations for liver transplant patients from Penn Liver Transplant clinical dietitian, Tiffany Donahue, RD, LD.

Tiffany's Tips

If you are a pre-liver transplant patient, keep in mind that while cutting calories, protein intake should not fall below your recommended needs. This will help to maintain muscle status as well as the ability to fight and heal from illness. If you’re not sure what your recommended daily allowance for protein is, before you begin any calorie counting strategies, check in with the Penn Liver Transplant Team to make sure you have a handle on the correct amount of protein your body needs during this important pre-transplant phase.

For post-liver transplant patients it’s critical not to start a weight loss program until discussing your goals with the Penn Liver Transplant team and being cleared to begin such a plan. Once cleared, a loss of one to two pounds per week is the recommended safe range. Because post-transplant therapy includes a steroid medication that may increase appetite and make losing weight more challenging, monitoring your weight each week would be helpful to track progress.

Once you’ve been approved to try losing those extra pounds, consider these three pointers:

1. Eat the Rainbow

Don’t be afraid to get creative and add some color to your meals. Eating by the color spectrum allows you to include many different health-boosting nutrients into your diet. The various colors will also make not-as-tasty foods, like fruits and vegetables, more appealing to the eye and stomach. 

2. Size matters

More is not always better. Portion size plays a big part in weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Many people have found success with using smaller plates, bowls and cups as an extra step to keep serving size within range.

3. Add physical activity

The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. Many underestimate the importance of activity and think that it is all about diet. Short on time? Try breaking up exercise into 15-to-20-minute increments throughout the day.

Losing weight is one of the most common resolutions people make this time of year. It’s a great goal, but it's important to be mindful of your safety as transplant patients. If you have any questions or need any more information, don't hesitate to contact Tiffany or your liver transplant nurse coordinator.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Making New Year’s Resolutions that Stick

As 2014 comes to a close and we pause to consider what went well and what we’d like to do differently, many of us begin to consider resolutions for the New Year. Without a plan to go along with the goals, it’s quite possible that the only thing that will change from December 31 to January 1 is the date.

If you’d like to increase your chances of transforming your resolutions into accomplishments, here are five tips from the American Psychological Association:

1. Start small. 

In the hopeful optimism of the new year’s fresh start, there's a tendency to set goals that represent major shifts in lifestyle. Experts recommend to start with mini goals and gradually build up to where you’d ultimately like to be. For example, if adding activity is on your resolutions list, consider scheduling three days at the gym instead of trying to go seven times. If you would like to eat more healthy foods, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of setting a goal to completely eliminate after meal treats.

2. Change one behavior at a time. 

Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. So, the process of replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy behaviors also requires time. Try to avoid being overwhelmed by the thought that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.

3. Talk about it. 

Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group specific to the goal you want to reach, such as a workout class at your gym. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.

4. Don’t beat yourself up. 

Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and to be expected. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and did not keep your resolution to eat more healthy foods, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs. When missteps happen, simply resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track as quickly as possible.

5. Ask for support. 

Accepting help from those who care about you and who can listen well will strengthen your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by changing your habits. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help.

Remember the Penn Lung Transplant Team is here to assist you in improving your health and well-being. Don’t hesitate to contact Penn Lung Transplant social worker, Christopher Erickson, for assistance getting connected with resources to help you achieve your goals.

Best of luck to you with your New Year’s resolutions. We look forward to sharing 2015 with you all!

Find out more about organ transplants at Penn.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Five Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

The holiday season is a wonderful time for celebration and reflection. But sometimes, amidst the hustle and bustle, stress can threaten to steal the joy that’s typically associated with this time of year.

Whether it's about health concerns, holiday preparations or house guests, it’s important to be proactive in managing stress so you and your loved ones are able to enjoy yourselves and you keep up your mental wellbeing.

Here are some suggestions from the American Psychiatric Association to help you successfully navigate the challenges of the holiday season:

1. Take time for yourself

When you take time to take care of yourself, everyone benefits. For some, that means taking a long walk; for others, it means treating yourself to a massage or listening to your favorite music. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. By slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.

2. Volunteer

Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter, where you and your family can volunteer. Participating in a giving tree or an adopt-a-family program may help you put your own holiday struggles in perspective. Penn's Transplant House is always looking for volunteers, especially during the holiday season. Call Kirsten King at 215-662-4540 to learn how you might be able to help.

3. Set realistic expectations

No Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket doesn’t have to ruin your entire holiday; rather, it might just create a unique family memory.

4. Remember what's important

Holiday advertising can make us forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones – not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.

5. Seek support

Talk about your concerns with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider contacting your liver transplant social worker, Chris Erickson, to find strategies to address your worries. Chris can be reached at 215-662-4575 or

Friday, December 5, 2014

Congratulations to Gift of Life Donor Program: 40 Years of Service and Advocacy Excellence

2014 marks an important and special milestone in organ donation and transplantation history in the Greater Philadelphia region: Gift of Life Donor Program’s 40th anniversary.

As our region’s federally designated, non-profit, organ procurement organization (OPO), Gift of Life continues to set national records for the number of organ donors per year, as well as the number of organs recovered per donor – making it one of the busiest and most successful organ procurement organizations in the country and the world.

As we celebrate Gift of Life’s exciting 40-year milestone and ongoing successes, the Penn Liver Transplant team thought it would be the perfect time to review the critical role that organ procurement organizations play in organ donation and transplantation.

What exactly does an OPO do?

An organ procurement organization (OPO) serves as the bridge between hospitals (where families are offered the opportunity to donate) and transplant centers (where people are waiting for organs). The primary responsibility of an OPO is to coordinate the donation process when donors become available and to increase the number of registered donors.

How does an OPO coordinate the donation process?

When there is an opportunity for donation, OPOs are responsible for the following important processes:
  • Evaluation of the potential donor 
  • Verification of donor designation 
  • Contacting the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) regarding the potential donor 
  • Running the UNOS generated list that matches the donor with potential transplant recipients 
  • Coordination of the surgical recovery of donated organs 
  • Coordination of the transportation of donated organs to the transplant centers of the intended recipients. 
For more information about the donation process, check out this helpful video from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).

What additional roles do OPOs play in the donation process?

The work of an OPO actually begins before a donor becomes available and continues after donation takes place. Before donation, OPOs work to education the community and dispel myths and misconceptions that keep families from saying “yes” to donation.

Another important pre-donation responsibility is providing a variety of professional education opportunities for the various members of the healthcare team who support families making end-of-life decisions.

After donation has occurred, many OPOs have dedicated teams to support donor families through the initial stages of the grieving process. One important aspect of family support is the coordination of communication between transplant recipients and donor families.

Additional information about Gift of Life Donor Program can be found on its website as well as its Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving: The Perfect Time to Say “Thank You”

The holiday season is often a time for us to reflect on how the year unfolded and look forward to what the coming year may bring. For liver transplant recipients, Thanksgiving presents a special occasion to express gratitude for the gift of life made possible by the generosity of organ donors and their families.

A Difficult Thank You

Writing to the family of your organ donor can be tough. It may be hard to find the right words to express your gratitude and describe just what the gift of life has meant to you and your family. Knowing that while you may be celebrating the gift of receiving your transplant, someone else will be remembering a loss makes it even more challenging. Donor families find these letters very meaningful; a simple thank you is all it takes to help a stranger grieve.

Getting Started

If you aren't sure where to start, Gift of Life recommends the following as a guideline for your letter:
  1. Include only your first name and only the first names of your family members (if you choose to include them).
  2. Acknowledge the donor family's loss and thank them for their gift.
  3. Discuss your family situation such as marital status, children or grandchildren. 
  4. Describe the type of transplant you received. (One donor may have benefited many people.)
  5. Use simple language. 
  6. Avoid complex medical terms. Don't give too much detail about your medical history.
  7. Describe how long you waited for a transplant. What was the wait like for you and your family?
  8. Explain how the transplant has improved your health and changed your life. Did you return to work, school or accept a new job? Did you celebrate another birthday? Did your son or daughter marry? Did you become a parent or grandparent?
  9. Share your hobbies or interests.
  10. Consider omitting any religious comments, since the religion of the donor family is unknown.
If writing a letter doesn’t feel like a comfortable option for you, Gift of Life also offers an opportunity to electronically send a note to the family of your donor by visiting the Family Support Services web page and completing the online form. A third option is to mail a nice thank card to the family of your donor with a brief acknowledgement of their loss and expression of gratitude for their gift.

The Correspondence Process

Correspondence to donor families should be mailed to the Gift of Life Family Support Services team. It will be reviewed by them before being sent to the donor family. The Family Support Services team is a group of specialists who help guide the donor families through the many complex emotions associated with donation, loss and grieving. Their relationship with donor families is similar to your relationship with your lung transplant coordinator. They are able to anticipate support needs that an individual or family may have.

The Gift of Life Donor Program’s privacy policy is in place to make sure everyone is sensitively supported throughout this communications process. This policy prohibits the following information from being shared in recipient correspondence:
  • Your address, city or phone number 
  • Your physician's name 
  • The name or location of the hospital where you received your transplant 
If any such information is included in your letter, Family Support Services will edit the letter prior to forwarding it to your donor family. Should Gift of Life have questions about the content of your letter, the Family Support Services team will contact you directly.

Letters or cards should be sent to:

Family Support Services
Gift of Life Donor Program
401 N. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

What Happens After the Letter Is Mailed?

Every family manages grief and the donation experience differently. It's not possible to predict whether you will receive a response from your donor’s family. For some families, corresponding with the recipients of their loved one’s donation is comforting. Others may prefer not to write back for personal reasons. In either case, “thank you” is as important to say as it is to hear. No matter when you were transplanted, this is a great time to express your gratitude.