Kidney Transplant and Donation

How do I find out more about kidney transplantation?

Patients may call 800-272-3666 to request more information, though most of our patients are referred by a nephrologist as they are approaching the need for transplant or dialysis. Upon receipt of the referral, our office contacts the patient to make an appointment and complete a medical intake questionnaire with the patient. During the first appointment, a transplant surgeon, nurse coordinator, social worker, dietician, financial liaisons and a pharmacist will meet with the patient to evaluate his or her candidacy for transplant. If the patient is found to be a suitable candidate, we begin the medical testing process. 

How do I proceed for a living vs. deceased donor transplant?

Options for a living donor versus a deceased donor transplant will be discussed at the time of your consultation.

Do I need to find my own living donor?

We encourage all of our patients to look for potential donors from among family, friends and acquaintances. Some patients have received kidneys from neighbors, church members or people in the community who heard of their need for a kidney. The Living Donor Kidney Exchange, available as part of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Kidney Transplant Program, provides those who need a kidney transplant with significantly improved access to potential compatible donors.

What are my responsibilities while on the waiting list?

Your responsibilities include keeping the transplant office informed of changes in your address, phone numbers, dialysis centers and your medical condition. You will also need to remain “transplant ready” through annual testing.

When do I get placed on the transplant waiting list?

When the testing is completed, your candidacy will be discussed at a meeting of the transplant review committee. This committee is composed of transplant surgeons, nephrologists, coordinators, and other transplant professionals. After approval by the committee and authorization from an insurance carrier, a patient can be placed on the transplant wait list.

How long do I need to wait for a transplant while on the list?

The allocation or distribution of deceased donor kidneys is a complex system. There are many factors that are considered when a kidney becomes available. These include blood type, length of time on the list, medical urgency and other factors. For more information on waiting times for transplantation, visit the United Network for Organ Sharing website.

What are the risks of having a transplant?

The risks and possible complications of transplant are similar to those associated with any surgical procedure. During the class and consultation, these issues are discussed.

What should I anticipate when I get called in for a transplant?

When a patient is called in, he or she will be asked to report to the hospital as soon as possible. The patient can expect to be prepared for surgery by having a history and physical, lab work, chest X-ray, and EKG. The final cross match is done at this time to determine if the transplant will proceed. The cross-match results take four to six hours to obtain before a final decision is made to go forward.

Do I need to be a blood relative to be a living donor?

No. A living kidney donor may be a relative or a person who is not related to the recipient. In the case of a non-relative, it is best if the donor has an emotional relationship with the recipient.

What might disqualify a living donor?

A living donor undergoes an extensive medical and psychological evaluation to ensure that it is medically and psychologically safe to donate a kidney. Our testing is designed to screen for diabetes, cancer, kidney stones, high blood pressure or any other medical or psychological concern.

What are the risks to a living donor?

The risks are the same as those with any other type of surgery. These include pneumonia, blood clots, side-effects of anesthesia and post-operative pain. The risk of death is about 1 in 4,000. These risks are fully discussed with the donor during the evaluation. Donors are not more likely to develop kidney disease in the future just because they have one remaining kidney. In fact, statistically, living donors have a longer life expectancy than the general population. This is because the evaluation process for donors selects individuals who have above-average health.

How long is the recovery period for the living donor?

The recovery period typically is two to four weeks, depending on the person and the type of surgery performed.

How is the donor’s kidney removed?

We have two methods of removing the donor’s kidney (donor nephrectomy). About 75 percent of our procedures are done using laparoscopy, which is a less invasive procedure. The remaining are done by the open nephrectomy method. The type of surgery is determined by the transplant surgeon with emphasis on safety for the donor and is based on information obtained during the evaluation process.

Who pays for the cost of the living donation?

The donor’s evaluation, hospitalization, surgery and follow-up care are paid for by the recipient’s insurance carrier. There is no reimbursement of lost wages, bills, travel expenses or other costs not directly related to the kidney donation.

How long will the recipient be in the hospital?

The average hospital stay for transplant recipients is about seven days. However, this can vary considerably from four days to three weeks, depending on many factors.

How long is the recovery period for the recipient after transplant?

The initial recovery time after the surgery is four to eight weeks. However, receiving a transplant carries a long-term commitment to ensure that the kidney continues to function. The recipient must be diligent in following the transplant team’s plan of post-operative care or the transplanted kidney may be rejected or lost due to other complications.

What are the side effects of the medications?

Anti-rejection medications are designed to suppress, or disable, a person’s immune system so that the transplanted organ will not be rejected. Side effects vary from minimal and tolerable to more severe. Dosages and side effects are closely monitored by the transplant team and adjusted accordingly. Side effects are discussed with the recipient before and after transplant.

Where else can I learn more?

Visit the National Kidney Foundation website to learn more about kidney disease, transplantation, education, advocacy, other resources and much more.