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Your Child's Skin Graft: Before Surgery

How can you care for your child after skin graft surgery?

Activity

  • Help your child rest when he or she feels tired.
  • Encourage your child to be active. Walking is a good choice, unless the grafted area is on the foot or leg.
  • Help your child avoid activity that stretches the skin graft for at least 3 weeks after surgery, unless your doctor gives you other instructions.
  • Your doctor will tell you when your child can take a shower. Do not let your child take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Do not allow your child to do strenuous activity until your doctor says it is okay. This includes riding bikes, playing running games, wrestling, and taking part in gym class.

Diet

  • Your child can eat a normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Help your child eat a well-balanced diet with enough protein to help the wound heal. Protein is a key nutrient in helping to repair damaged tissue and promote new tissue growth. Good sources of protein are milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, and beans.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call the doctor.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Skin graft and donor site care

  • Leave the bandages on the skin graft and donor site until your doctor says you can take them off. You probably will get instructions on how to change the bandages. Follow these instructions closely.
  • Keep the area clean and dry, unless your doctor tells you differently.
  • Do not let your child rub the skin graft for 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Cover your child's skin graft and donor sites to keep them from sunlight. Use sunscreen on the sites when the doctor says you can. This helps to prevent a permanent change of color in the grafted skin.
  • After the graft heals, use lotion regularly to keep the area moist.

How do you prepare for skin graft surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

After your child's skin graft surgery: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the skin graft comes loose.
  • Your child has bleeding from the skin graft or donor site.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child is sick to his or her stomach or can't keep fluids down.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

After your child's skin graft surgery: Overview

Skin grafts are small sections of healthy skin removed from one part of the body (donor site) and put on another part. Grafts can be used to treat skin damaged by burns, infection, or other injury.

Your child will have a bandage over the skin graft. The area may be sore for 1 to 2 weeks. Keep the area of the skin graft dry while it heals, unless your doctor gives you other instructions. If you can, prop up the area of your child's body that has the skin graft. Keeping it raised will reduce swelling and fluid buildup that can cause problems with the graft.

Your child also will have a bandage on the donor site. The donor site can hurt during recovery. Your child may have a special type of bandage on it to help reduce pain. Your child may get a shot of long-lasting pain medicine in the area.

If the graft was placed on your child's legs, arms, hands, or feet, your child may need physical therapy to prevent scar tissue from limiting movement. This therapy is very important. It may include wearing splints and doing stretches and range-of-motion exercises. These may be painful, but they help your child to heal properly.

It may take months for your child to regain some feeling in the grafted area. The feeling will be different than it was before the injury.

Your child may not have sweat glands in the skin graft area. If the grafted area is large, this may make it hard for the area to cool off when your child is hot. The grafted area may not have oil glands. This can make the skin graft dry and flaky. After the graft heals, you may need to use lotion to keep the skin moist. The skin graft may not grow hair.

Your child's care team will check the skin graft often to make sure that it's healing well. Sometimes the skin graft doesn't work. If this happens, your child may need another one.

What happens on the day of your child's skin graft surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your child's surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to have your child take any medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow the doctor's instructions about when your child should bathe or shower before the surgery. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush their teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that's a reminder of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • How long it takes to do the skin graft depends on how much damaged skin needs to be covered.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery staff will monitor your child's condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • Your child will have bandages over the graft area and the area where the skin was taken from.
  • You may be able to take your child home on the same day as the surgery. Or your child may need to stay in the hospital for a few days or more.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.