Kidney Transplant Patient Education

What is a kidney transplant?

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which a patient with kidney failure receives a new kidney from either a living donor or a deceased donor. The two original kidneys usually remain in place, and the donor kidney will be placed in another part of the abdomen. It is not a cure, but a treatment for chronic kidney failure. It is the treatment of choice for those who are considered suitable candidates for a transplant. 

How does a kidney transplant compare to dialysis treatment?

A kidney transplant has many advantages over dialysis. It can treat your kidney failure, improve your health, and provide you with a lifestyle free from dialysis. Usually, you will have fewer fluid and diet restrictions after getting a new kidney. Most people feel well enough to return to work or school. 

With transplantation comes responsibilities. For your new kidney to work, you must take medications every day.. These medications can have side effects. You may also have complications, such as rejection of your new kidney or an infection. Each patient responds differently to a kidney transplant. 

Who is eligible for a kidney transplant?

Generally, you must be younger than 80 years old to have a kidney transplant. If you have any other medical conditions, they must be well controlled. 

How do I find out if I am eligible?

There are many steps to determining if you are eligible for a kidney transplant. This involves meeting with members of the transplant team to make sure you are a good candidate. 

  • First, you will meet with the Transplant Surgeon to learn if you have any medical or surgical reasons why a kidney transplant would not be right for you. The surgeon will discuss the surgery, determine what tests you need, and answer any questions or concerns you and your family may have. 
  • A Transplant Coordinator will set up your appointments, review any tests the doctor has ordered, and explain what takes place in the hospital when the transplant occurs. 
  • A Social Worker will discuss any emotional or financial concerns you may have. 
  • A Transplant Nephrologist will work closely with your surgeon to complete your medical evaluation, including making sure you have all the necessary testing and tissue typing, which will allow us to better match a kidney to you. 
  • You will also meet with a Cardiologist and Psychiatrist to make sure your heart is healthy enough to go through surgery and that you are mentally prepared for the surgery. 
  • We will also ask you to have a care partner/support person to help you through the surgery and initial recovery. This person will need to come to all your appointments with you. 
  • You must have stable, secure housing, transportation to the Transplant Center for follow-up care, and insurance to cover the surgery and costs of your medications. 
  • Once all the test results are reviewed by our Transplant Committee and the team has cleared you for a transplant, you will be placed on the active waiting list. To remain active, you must send a blood sample to the organ bank each month. This is usually coordinated through your dialysis center or nephrologist.

What are the types of kidney transplants?

There are two types of kidney transplants—those from a living donor and those from a deceased donor. 

Living donor: A living donor kidney comes from a healthy adult. Living donors can be family members, friends, or anonymous. When a person volunteers to be a potential living donor, they have blood tests to find out if they are a good donor for the recipient. Once compatibility is confirmed, living donors must also have additional testing to make sure their kidneys are healthy and that they are in good enough health to be a donor. 

Statistics show that kidney transplants from live donors function longer, and the survival rate for live donor kidneys is more than 95% for the first year. The average life of a kidney donated from a perfectly matched (tissue typing identical) sibling is 25 to 30 years, and the average life of a kidney donated from a half-matched sibling or unrelated donor is 16 years. No live donor candidate is allowed to donate a kidney unless the transplant team is certain, to the best of their ability, that the donor will live a normal, healthy life with one kidney. 

Deceased donor: A deceased donor kidney comes from a person who has chosen to be an organ donor and has been declared deceased. Like the living donor, the deceased donor must have blood testing performed to show compatibility with the proposed recipient. The average life of a kidney from a deceased donor is between 8 and 20 years.

How long will I need to wait for a kidney transplant?

If you have found a living donor, and that donor is approved, you can move forward with the transplant once you are both cleared for the surgery.

If you are waiting for a deceased donor, once all your testing is complete, your candidacy will be presented to the Transplant Multidisciplinary Committee for approval to be placed on the BMC Waitlist. 

Once you are “listed,” you must wait until an appropriate deceased donor is found. This can take up to 8 years or longer, depending on your blood type. It is important during this waiting time to keep a positive attitude and take steps to deal with stress. Keep things in perspective and remember that after your kidney transplant your life will likely improve. During this time, you will meet with the transplant team at least once a year. It is your responsibility to let the team know if you move, change your phone number, get new insurance, or have any changes in your health. If you move or are going away, let your coordinator know ahead of time. 

How do I learn more? 

For more information, the Boston Medical Center Transplant team has put together a comprehensive guide to answer a wide variety of questions about kidney transplants. We hope you will find Kidney Transplantation - A Manual for Patient Education helpful.

And to learn more about what to expect after your transplant, download 
Kidney Transplantation - After Your Kidney Transplant, a detailed guide that covers everything from medications to diet.


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