Pediatric Transplants Stressful for Parents, Too

Organ transplantation is now the treatment of choice for a number of serious medical conditions that today’s children face. While the experience is, no doubt, stressful for the young children who undergo transplantation, a new study shows it can be equally, if not more stressful for the parents or caregivers of those children.

The dawn of new medications in recent years has greatly improved survival rates in pediatric organ transplant patients. While safer, more effective transplantation may alleviate the threat of some end-stage diseases, it can often induce a new threat to the emotional health and social functioning of the families of transplant recipients.

In this study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, studied 170 parents and/or primary caregivers of recent pediatric transplant recipients to determine how they responded emotionally and psychosocially to the experience.

Based on interviews conducted between 10 months and 38 months from the time of the initial organ transplant, researches found that parents maintained relatively normal levels of depression and anxiety when compared with control groups. They did, however, report more severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Results show more than half of the parents of pediatric transplant recipients reported moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD with the most severe symptoms reported being that of avoidance. Researchers define avoidance as “feeling distant or cut off from people around you” or “feeling as if your future plans or hopes will not come true.” Researchers report a significant correlation between the presence of PTSD and elevated levels of depression. Because depression was not shown to increase in parents as a result of pediatric transplantation, researchers speculate that the presence of depression may increase the risk of developing PTSD.

Parents who described their child’s health as “poor” were much more likely to suffer from severe PTSD symptoms. Parents who perceived the transplant as a negative experience for their family and social functioning or reported fewer perceived benefits relative to the family generally reported more severe PTSD symptoms.

Researchers say, “Assessment of parental perceptions of helplessness and fear before and after the transplant surgery may be useful in targeting preventive interventions for parents.”

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