About Kidney Transplant

A kidney transplant is, quite literally, a new lease on life. It’s not right for every person with chronic kidney disease, but for those who qualify, it provides the best chance at living a long and healthy life.

A kidney transplant isn’t a cure for kidney disease—it’s another type of treatment. People with a kidney transplant still need to watch their diet carefully and take daily medications. But compared to patients on dialysis, transplant recipients tend to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

Kidney transplant facts

  • Someone joins the kidney transplant list every 14 minutes.
  • People in need of a kidney make up 83% of those awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant.
  • 90% of deceased donor kidneys and 96% from living donors are still functioning well a year after surgery.
  • Deceased donor kidneys last an average of 10 to 12 years and it’s not uncommon for living donor kidneys to last two decades.

How kidney transplants work

During a kidney transplant, a surgeon replaces one of a patient’s diseased kidneys with a healthy kidney from either a living or deceased donor. While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon places the donated kidney inside the body just under the hipbone, sewing it to an artery and vein before connecting it to the bladder.

Once attached, the donor kidney takes over and begins to filter out waste just like a healthy kidney should. In most cases, it’s not necessary to remove the diseased kidneys.


How to get on the kidney transplant list

Getting on the kidney transplant waiting list is a three-step process.

Step 1: Receive a referral from your doctor.
Schedule an appointment with your nephrologist to talk about the possibility of getting a kidney transplant. If your doctor thinks you’re a good candidate, he or she will refer you to a local transplant center.

If you live in the Puget Sound region, you’ll likely be referred to Swedish Medical Center, UW Medical Center or Virginia Mason.

Step 2: Get evaluated by transplant specialists.
Meet with the transplant specialists at your referred transplant center. They will evaluate your condition further and decide whether you’re healthy enough to proceed. They will also help identify any special needs you may have during and after the transplant. Specifically, you must be cancer free, a non-smoker and have no active infections. If you are severely overweight, you may be required to lose weight prior to being considered for a transplant.

Step 3: Undergo blood tests and health screenings.
Receive a series of medical screenings to confirm your eligibility. This includes blood tests to determine your unique blood and tissue types, a dental exam and cancer screenings. If the lab results look good, you’ll be placed on the national transplant waiting list.

It is important to remember that a kidney transplant is not a cure, it is a treatment option. Once you receive a transplant you will need to take daily medication, have your blood checked on a regular basis and follow up with the transplant center or your kidney doctor. With care and a healthy lifestyle, a kidney transplant can last years.


Common questions about kidney transplants

How long does the transplant surgery take? How long is the recovery?

The kidney transplant surgery typically lasts three to four hours. Most patients stay in the hospital for five to ten days while doctors monitor the new kidney and check for complications. Once out of the hospital, your transplant team will continue to monitor you closely for several weeks.

For the first two to four weeks of your recovery, you won’t be able to drive or do any strenuous activity. After about two months, your doctors may allow you to be more active and return to work.

How painful is the kidney transplant surgery?

You’ll be under a general anesthetic, so you won’t feel any pain during the surgery itself. However, after the procedure, as your incision heals, you’ll likely feel very sore. The pain varies from patient to patient, but your doctors will prescribe you pain medication to help ensure you’re comfortable.

How successful are kidney transplants?

The overwhelming majority of kidney transplant surgeries are successful. Around 90 percent of kidney transplant recipients across the country live for at least five years and only 25 percent need dialysis after surgery. Deceased donor kidneys last an average of 10 to 13 years and those from a living donor last 15 to 20 years.

How long can I expect to wait until a kidney becomes available?

In the Pacific Northwest, patients typically wait 18 months to five years before a deceased kidney becomes available. The average wait time nationally is 3.6 years.

If you’re receiving a kidney from a living donor, it can take several months to make arrangements for the procedure.

How do I live healthily after a kidney transplant?

After receiving a kidney transplant, it’s important to monitor your diet, take prescribed medications and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • Continuing with your low-fat, low-salt diet, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, drinking lots of fluids and avoiding certain foods that may clash with your medications
  • Taking daily anti-rejection medications to ensure your body doesn’t attack your new kidney
  • Have your blood tested per your doctor’s orders
  • See your transplant team and kidney doctor as scheduled
  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercising regularly (low-impact at first) but avoiding contact sports.

>     Find out more about living with a kidney transplant

How to donate a kidney

Living kidney donation

Donating a kidney is one of the greatest gifts you can give. If you’re healthy and a good match, you can donate to a friend, relative or even a total stranger. Typically, kidney donors must be over 18 years old, in good health and not at risk of developing kidney disease themselves.

How to donate to someone you know
1. Call the patient’s transplant center to schedule an appointment.
2. Get evaluated by transplant specialists, undergo medical tests and provide a medical history to determine whether you’ll be eligible to donate.
3. If you’re not a match, consider entering the center’s donor exchange program, where you swap with another, or several other, patient/donor pair(s) so that every patient in the chain receives a matching kidney.

How to donate a kidney to a stranger
To donate a kidney to a stranger, contact the transplant centers in your area to discuss the possibility of becoming a non-directed, altruistic donor.

If you live in the Puget Sound region, contact the following local centers:

Deceased kidney donation

If, in the event of your death, you’d like your organs to help save lives, join your state’s organ donor registry. In addition to kidneys, your pancreas, liver, lungs, heart and intestinal organs can save the lives of people with otherwise fatal illnesses. The organs from just one donor can save up to eight lives.

>     Visit DonateLife.net to register as an organ donor