Understanding kidney transplant options

kidney transplant?

A longer and healthier life without dialysis

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure to place a healthy kidney from a donor inside the body of someone whose kidneys no longer function properly. A healthy transplanted kidney removes waste and extra fluid from the body and enables you to live a longer and healthier life without dialysis.

The process of finding a healthy kidney that’s a good fit for you can be long and complex. Yet when possible, a kidney transplant is often the best option to achieve  the most freedom and better long-term health.  

Overview of the kidney transplant process

If you and your doctor believe you may be a good candidate for a kidney transplant, your doctor will make a referral to a transplant center.  You’ll  meet with a transplant coordinator and undergo a detailed transplant evaluation. Once complete, you may be placed on a kidney transplant wait list until a healthy kidney that’s right for your body becomes available. 

People with kidneys that no longer function to keep them healthy will begin dialysis, either at home or in a dialysis center. For others, dialysis may not be needed yet. Everyone waiting for a transplant works hard to live a CKD-healthy lifestyle with special attention to diet, fluids, and their other health conditions.

A healthy kidney is donated from a living or deceased donor. A successful kidney transplant requires a compatible recipient and donor, which is determined by a series of blood tests. These tests help ensure your body can accept a donated kidney with little chance of rejection. When a healthy kidney is found for you, you’ll be scheduled for the transplant surgery.

The transplant surgery is performed under anesthesia by a surgeon that specializes in transplantation. The healthy kidney is placed on the right or left side of the lower abdomen and connected to the blood vessels and the bladder. Your original kidneys are usually not removed, unless they’re causing problems.

After a transplant, most people are in the hospital for several days to begin recovery and watch for complications including their  body’s possible rejection of the transplanted kidney. After a few weeks, kidney recipients  begin to feel stronger and slowly get back to daily life.
A successful transplant means your body has accepted the transplanted kidney, and you can now work to keep it as healthy as possible. This includes regular medical appointments and lab work as well as managing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It also involves taking medications as prescribed and maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

Finding your healthy kidney

Waiting for a kidney transplant can be a long and complex process. How long you wait for a healthy kidney often depends on where and when a suitable donor is found.

man holding picture of family

Deceased organ donor

A healthy kidney is removed soon after the death of a person who agreed to be an organ donor. The healthy kidney is quickly matched to a recipient who has already been identified as a good candidate for a successful transplant. Wait times vary, but most people wait for 18 months or more for a healthy kidney from a deceased donor.

kidney transplant

Living organ donor

A relative, friend, or stranger may volunteer to donate one of their healthy kidneys to someone who needs it. Volunteers are carefully screened to make sure that they, like most people with two healthy kidneys, can live a long and healthy life with just a single kidney. When both donor and recipient are ready, a surgery date for the transplant can be scheduled.

Paying for a kidney transplant

Make sure your transplant team knows what insurance you have, so they can help you understand the costs for the surgery and after care. 

Medicare usually covers the cost of receiving a kidney transplant. If you have Medicare and Medicare Part B, the cost of the immunosuppressive medications required after transplant may also be covered. Employer or other private health insurance coverage can vary but usually cover essential costs related to the transplant.

Learn more about kidney transplant money matters
cost of a kidney transplant

The best time for a kidney transplant is before you need dialysis

Having a kidney transplant before your kidney function falls below 15% may allow you to avoid starting dialysis. This is called a preemptive transplant and it has many benefits. 

A preemptive transplant reduces the risk of your body rejecting your new kidney. Plus, people generally live longer with a better quality of life. Talk to your doctor to see if a preemptive transplant might be a good fit for you. 

You can also receive a transplant shortly after starting dialysis. This is called an early transplant, and it  has similar benefits to receiving a preemptive transplant.

Learn more about the advantages of a preemptive transplant
preemptive kidney transplant

What to do while you wait

Your CKD care team helps you stay strong, healthy, and ready for your transplant surgery day. 

  • Carefully follow your doctor’s orders – this includes taking your medications, managing your blood pressure and diabetes, and going to your dialysis treatments.
  • Commit to a healthy, active lifestyle.  Follow your meal plan and fluid intake guidelines.
  • Make sure your contact information is current and have a plan to be ready to quickly travel to your transplant center.

Learn more about things to do while you wait for surgery
while you wait for a kidney transplant