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Liver transplant patients: their experience in the intensive care unit. A phenomenological study


  • Miriam Del Barrio BScN, RN,

  • Mª Mar Lacunza BScN, RN,

  • Ana Carmen Armendariz BScN, RN,

  • Mª Angeles Margall MScN, RN,

  • Mª Carmen Asiain BScN, RN

Miriam del Barrio
Clínica Universitaria de Navarra
Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos
Pio XII, 36-31008 Pamplona
Telephone: +34 948  296693


Background.  The nurses’ knowledge of patients’ experiences contributes to gaining a deeper understanding of their health process, which will help to provide a better foundation for nursing care. The patients’ experiences in the intensive care unit are singular; liver transplant patients constitute a specific group, because generally their admission to the intensive care unit marks the first step towards recovery of their health after a process in which they have lived in fear because their illness was reaching a more or less terminal stage.

Aim.  To describe the liver transplant patient's experience in the intensive care unit.

Design.  Phenomenological descriptive qualitative study.

Method.  In-depth interviews were carried out with a sample of 10 patients. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were analyzed using the method devised by Giorgi and modified by Baker.

Results.  After the data were analyzed, a general description emerged, which includes five themes reflecting the essence of what this group of patients experienced: preconceived ideas marked the way they approached transplant; captured impressions of the intensive care unit's environment and experienced sensations; their perception of the caring behaviour of the nursing staff; support from the social environment (family) and religious beliefs; and their preconceived idea of the intensive care unit contrasted with their lived experience.

Conclusion.  This research enabled us to gain in-depth knowledge of the liver transplant patient's lived experience of the intensive care unit. Nurses can optimize the nursing care plan for this group of patients based on these results.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Awareness of the importance that these participants gave to discomfort caused in their basic needs should lead nurses to pay special attention to the nursing interventions to help with these needs. As a result of this research, nurses and other professionals in the intensive care unit know that patients have an immediate sense of positive change. This enables us to reinforce this perception, reminding them frequently that they have already had their transplant and they are progressing well, thereby aiding their recovery. With regard to the social support of liver transplant patients, nurses must facilitate the presence of family members at the patient's bedside, as participants stated that the only support they needed was that of their family.