How do I start the process of getting a kidney transplant?
Ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a transplant center
for an evaluation, or contact a transplant center
in your area. Any kidney patient can ask for an evaluation.
How does the evaluation process work?
Medical professionals will give you a complete physical exam, review your health records, and order a series of tests and X-rays to learn about your overall health. Everything that can affect how well you can handle treatment will be checked. The evaluation process for a transplant is very thorough. Your healthcare team will need to know a lot about you to help them—and you—decide if a transplant is right for you. One thing you can do to speed the process is to get all the testing done as quickly as possible and stay in close contact with the transplant team. If you’re told you might not be right for a transplant, don’t be afraid to ask why—or if you might be eligible at some future time or at another center. Remember, being active in your own care is one of the best ways to stay healthy.
If someone you know would like to donate a kidney to you, that person will also need to go through a screening to find out if he or she is a match and healthy enough to donate.
If it’s your child who has kidney disease, you’ll want to give serious thought to getting a transplant evaluation for him or her. Because transplantation allows children and young adults to develop in as normal a way as possible in their formative years, it can be the best treatment for them.
If the evaluation process shows that a transplant is right for you or your child, the next step is getting a suitable kidney. (See "Finding a Kidney" below.)
What does the operation involve?
You may be surprised to learn that your own kidneys generally aren’t taken out when you get a transplant. The surgeon leaves them where they are unless there is a medical reason to remove them. The donated kidney is placed into your lower abdomen (belly), where it’s easiest to connect it to your important blood vessels and bladder. Putting the new kidney in your abdomen also makes it easier to take care of any problems that might come up.
The operation takes about four hours. You’ll be sore at first, but you should be out of bed in a day or so, and home within a week. If the kidney came from a living donor, it should start to work very quickly. A kidney from a deceased donor can take longer to start working—two to four weeks or more. If that happens, you may need dialysis until the kidney begins to work.
After surgery, you’ll be taught about the medicines you’ll have to take and their side effects. You’ll also learn about diet. If you’ve been on dialysis, you’ll find that there are fewer restrictions on what you can eat and drink, which is one of the benefits of a transplant.
What are anti-rejection medicines?
Normally, your body fights off anything that isn’t part of itself, like germs and viruses. That system of protection is called your immune system. To stop your body from attacking or rejecting the donated kidney, you will have to take medicines to keep your immune system less active (called anti-rejection medicines or immunosuppressant
medicines). You’ll need to take them as long as your new kidney is working. Without them, your immune system would see the donated kidney as “foreign,” and would attack and destroy it.
Anti-rejection medicines can have some side effects. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about them, so that you know what to expect. Fortunately, for most people, side effects are usually manageable. Changing the dose or type of medicine can often ease some of the side effects.
Besides the immunosuppressive medicines, you will take other medicines as well. You will take medicines to protect you from infection, too. Most people find taking medicines a small trade for the freedom and quality of life that a successful transplant can provide.