What Is a Kidney Transplant?

A kidney transplant, sometimes known as a renal transplant, is a treatment for kidney failure at end stage renal disease (ESRD)Kidney transplant surgery is a major surgery during which a person with kidney failure receives a new kidney—either from a living donor or a deceased donor. A successful kidney transplant is closest to natural kidney function and considered the most effective treatment for ESRD—offering a chance for a longer, healthier life.

PLANNING A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT AND NEED A KIDNEY DONOR?

Find out what to consider and how to get started in your search for a kidney match.

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What does kidney transplant surgery involve?

You only need 1 working kidney to be healthy, so only 1 kidney is transplanted during surgery. Your 2 original kidneys will usually remain in place and the new donor kidney will be placed in another area of your abdomen. The ureter (urine tube) attached to the donor kidney will then be attached to your bladder. If the kidney transplant surgery is successful, your new kidney will take over the tasks of filtering your blood and making urine, just like your own kidneys did before you had kidney disease.

Illustration of how a kidney transplant works. The diseased kidneys along with a transplanted kidney and transplanted ureter are shown.

How long does a kidney transplant last?

The average lifespan of a transplanted kidney is 12-15 years, though some transplants will last longer. Some people may need multiple transplants in their lifetime.

WHO SHOULD GET A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT?

If you are diagnosed with kidney failure, or you’re at Stage 3 CKD or Stage 4 CKD and considering a kidney transplant procedure down the line, talk to your doctor about whether or not kidney transplant surgery is right for you. If you’re in otherwise good health and your doctor determines that you meet the requirements, a kidney transplant may be a good option. Generally, doctors consider a kidney transplant to be the best kidney failure treatment, whenever possible.

“She just called me one day and said ‘Dad, I’m a match.’”

—Ron, received transplant in 2018
Watch Ron’s Transplant Story

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Kidney transplant requirements

If you choose to have a kidney transplant surgery, you should know that your best chance for a successful transplant depends on certain factors. Kidney transplant requirements include the following:
kidney transplant requirements for our overall health

Good overall health

If your doctor feels you may be a good candidate, he or she will most likely recommend a kidney transplant. To make sure you are healthy enough for surgery, you will need to have a complete medical exam and a series of tests to screen for any medical conditions that may affect your ability to have a good outcome.

A good kidney donor match

For a kidney transplant to be successful, the new kidney must be from a donor who has the same tissue type and a compatible blood type. People with O blood type are the “universal donor” and are compatible with any blood type, while people with AB blood type are the “universal recipient” and can receive a kidney from a donor with any blood type. An ideal match is from a living donor with the same tissue and blood type, whose genetic characteristics are most like your own.

If getting a kidney from a living donor is not possible, you can still find a good match, but you will need to be placed on a waiting list to receive a kidney from a deceased donor. In either case, your Fresenius Kidney Care team can help connect you to the right transplant resources and specialists.
LEARN MORE ABOUT FINDING A KIDNEY DONOR
when to get a kidney transplant

The right timing

With kidney transplants, the earlier the better. If possible, it is best to have your kidney transplant surgery before you actually need dialysis. However, like most people electing to have a kidney transplant, you may need to find a good donor match.

Since the average wait time is approximately 3 to 5 years, people waiting for a kidney donor will need to maintain their kidney function through dialysis treatments until a kidney is available. During your waiting period, you have a number of dialysis choices including home hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis or in-center dialysis treatment options.

WHEN SHOULD YOU START PLANNING FOR A TRANSPLANT?

Begin planning for a kidney transplant as soon as possible. The first step is talking to your doctor about whether kidney transplant surgery is right for you. It’s best to start discussing a transplant well before you need to make a treatment choice.

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What is kidney transplant surgery success rate?

According to the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the success rate after a kidney transplant with a living-donor kidney was reported as 97% at 1 year and 86% at 5 years. The success rate after transplant with a deceased-donor kidney was 96% at 1 year and 79% at 5 years.

Learn which dialysis treatment is best for you.

Benefits of kidney transplant surgery

If you have a successful kidney transplant, you may live a longer life than you would have while on dialysis. You may also have fewer health complications and enjoy a better quality of life.
Benefits can include:

  • No need for dialysis
  • Feeling more energetic
  • Achieving better overall health
  • Having fewer restrictions on your diet

HOW MUCH DOES A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT COST?

Your social worker or insurance coordinator can help you figure out how much coverage you'll have. Private insurance and Medicare cover about 80% of initial surgery and medication costs.

Learn about kidney donations

Potential risks and side effects of kidney transplant surgery

As with any surgery, there may be issues and complications. Potential risks after kidney transplant surgery include:

  • Temporary lack of kidney function—Your new kidney may not start working immediately and you may need dialysis until it resumes normal kidney function.
  • Organ rejection—Your body may reject the donor organ and you may need medication to help your body accept the new kidney.
  • Kidney failure—Your new kidney may fail after a number of years and you may need to have a second transplant or go back on dialysis.
  • Cancer—Immunosuppressant medication taken after transplant may leave you more vulnerable to disease.
  • Diabetes—Medications taken after a transplant can cause diabetes.
  • Heart attack or stroke—A transplant puts you at a higher risk than a healthy person who hasn’t had a transplant, especially if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Potential side effects of a kidney transplant may include:

  • Narrowing of the artery leading to the kidney—also called renal artery stenosis
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure

What to expect after kidney transplant surgery

If you’ve met all the requirements for a kidney transplant procedure and you’re scheduled for surgery, your doctor will give you detailed directions on what to expect and how to plan for the procedure.

Before kidney transplant surgery:

  • You should look after your health and make it a habit to eat well, exercise, and look after your well-being. Going into surgery as healthy as possible can help with recovery.
  • Arrange help for post-surgery recovery. You won’t be able to drive or lift anything heavy, so you’ll need support from a friend, family member, or caregiver.
  • Pack for the hospital. Bring what you’ll need to stay comfortable and entertained during downtime.
  • Make sure you get any questions answered by your doctor. Keep a list of questions and write them down as you think of them so you don’t forget.


Immediately after kidney transplant surgery:

  • You can expect soreness in your abdomen.
  • You will need to remain in the hospital for up to a week. Your doctor and care team will closely monitor your status.
  • You will need to take immunosuppressants—drugs that will help prevent your body from rejecting your new kidney.
  • You will need to take other medication to help reduce your risk for infection and other potential complications. 


After you're discharged:

  • You’ll need regular checkups for a few weeks after surgery. If you live away from the transplant center, you will need to make arrangements to stay nearby.
  • You will be monitored regularly to check on your new kidney.
  • You’ll need to take a daily medication to prevent your body from rejecting your new kidney.

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