Transplantation

A Kidney Transplant

A kidney transplant is a treatment option for some people with kidney failure.  The surgery takes a healthy kidney from one person and puts it into another person. Kidneys can come from a living donor or from someone who has died (deceased donor).  Kidneys from a person who has died are ‘allocated’ to patients who are on a national waiting list.  www.unos.org

A kidney transplant is not a cure for kidney failure. Not every person who has kidney failure wants or would be a good candidate for a kidney transplant.

A patient should talk about transplant with his/her (kidney) doctor. Dialysis patients can also ask other members of their healthcare team like the nurse manager or social worker about how to get more information about kidney transplantation.  Patients with kidney failure who have not started dialysis can talk with their doctor or contact the transplant center directly.

In Wisconsin, there are three adult kidney transplant centers-two in Milwaukee and one in Madison.  Staff members at any of the transplant centers can answer questions about their program.

A transplant center will help a person understand if he/she would benefit from a kidney transplant and is healthy enough for surgery. This ‘pre-transplant’ evaluation may require several visits and can take weeks or months to complete.  Besides medical testing, exams and screenings, the transplant candidate meets with financial experts to discuss insurance and the other financial aspects of the process.  The patient can also expect to meet with other transplant staff members who will help the patient understand what will be required after the surgery to remain in the best health possible.

During the transplant evaluation, family members or other interested individuals may also want to find out more or be tested as potential living donors.  Each transplant center has a specific transplant coordinator who is responsible to answer questions for anyone who is interested in living donation.  This coordinator will not be the same transplant professional who is working with the patient.  All communication with the living donor coordinator is confidential and is not shared with the patient.

A patient may choose to register at multiple transplant centers. Each transplant center may require a separate medical evaluation even though a patient is already ‘listed’ at another center.

It is important for anyone in the process of being evaluated for a transplant or who is on the transplant waiting list to notify the transplant center immediately if there are any changes in personal email, telephone number(s) or overall health.

A kidney patient who is eligible for transplant and has a living donor will be able to schedule the transplant surgery.  The operation for both the potential recipient and the living donor happen at the same time.  One team of transplant surgeons removes the kidney from the donor and the other team of doctors prepares the kidney patient to receive the kidney.

The transplant surgery process begins a little differently if the person receives a kidney from a deceased donor.  The kidney patient on the ‘waiting list’ must be ready to go to the hospital as soon as his/her transplant coordinator tells them that a kidney is available.  After arriving at the hospital, there are some additional tests, including a blood test that will make sure the donated kidney is the right match for the potential recipient.

During the surgery, the new kidney is connected to the correct artery and vein as well as the bladder.  Usually, the person’s own kidneys (native kidneys) remain in the body.  The transplant surgeon will review the surgical process during the evaluation process and again before the actual surgery.  The transplant coordinator assigned to a patient is also a good resource and can answer patient questions.

The amount of time a person must remain in the hospital after surgery is different for each person.  Before leaving the hospital, recipients and living donors receive a list of the follow up appointments and information on how to contact transplant team members with questions or concerns.

You can see information on transplant centers throughout the country on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) web site. To view UNOS data, go to www.unos.org.

There are other ways to help:

  1. Become a donor after death.  In Wisconsin, sign-up online at https://health.wisconsin.gov/donorRegistry/public/donate.html
  2. Donate bone marrow or blood.  For information about bone marrow or blood stem cell donation, contact the National Marrow Donor Program at (800) MARROW2 or bethematch.org.  To donate blood, visit American Red Cross or BloodCenter of Wisconsin.
  3. Attend the Parkway 5K Run/Walk, Capital City 5K Run/Walk for Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation or Spotlight on Life.
  4. Making a direct financial contribution will also allow the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin to continue to offer its free educational programs like Living Well Before & After Transplant.

Last updated: December 9, 2016