Kidney Transplant FAQs | Transplant | Loyola Medicine

Kidney Transplant FAQs

What to Expect Before Kidney Transplant Surgery

How long should I expect to wait for my transplant? In Illinois, the average wait time for a kidney on the national waiting list is five to seven years. During this time, your Loyola healthcare team will continue to manage your condition through dialysis. However, if you have an incompatible living donor and choose the pay-it-forward program, your wait time might be significantly reduced.

Who pays for the operation? Insurance, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid, will pay for the recipient's evaluation and surgery. The recipient's insurance also pays for the evaluation and surgery for a living donor. Please contact your insurance company for specific levels of coverage.

What do the kidneys do? You have two bean-shaped kidneys in the lower back on either side of the spine. They help the body remove waste material and extra fluid from the blood and body in the form of urine. The kidneys also help to control blood pressure, stimulate production of red blood cells and regulate fluids and chemicals in the body.

What is kidney failure? Kidney failure, also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), is when your kidneys can no longer clean toxins and other chemicals from your blood, regulate blood pressure or produce red blood cells.

Why a kidney transplant rather than dialysis? Kidney transplant is another treatment option. Transplants can provide a better quality of life by allowing you freedom from frequent, time-consuming dialysis treatments. A transplant also can increase your life expectancy when compared with dialysis.

How can I find out if I need a kidney transplant? If you are interested in a transplant, you can talk to your nephrologist or a technician at your dialysis center. You also can contact Loyola’s Transplant Center at 708-327-4TXP/708-327-4897.

How do I know if I qualify for a kidney transplant? There are many possible reasons to need a kidney transplant. If you are experiencing kidney failure or you have certain diseases that affect the kidneys, you may need a transplant. The need for a transplant can be determined only after an examination and testing by your nephrologist.

What does a kidney transplant evaluation involve? A kidney transplant evaluation is extensive. It requires many diagnostic tests to determine your need and is different for each patient.

What is the age limit for a kidney transplant? Kidney transplants are routinely performed for patients of all ages. At Loyola, we perform both adult and pediatric kidney transplants.

What does it mean to be on “the list” for a kidney transplant? After completing the evaluation process, Loyola’s multidisciplinary team reviews your results. If you are approved for a kidney transplant, you will be registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing, more commonly called UNOS. This is the national waiting list for deceased-donor organs. It is used to match potential donor organs with recipients.

What should I be doing while I wait for a donor? In general, try to maintain your health as much as possible. In addition, continue to stay in touch with the transplant center and notify them of any changes in location or health. Your doctors may recommend specific medications or treatments to help you stay in the best health.

Do my own kidneys have to be removed? For patients receiving a kidney, the existing kidneys (also called native kidneys) are usually left in place. They are near the back of your abdomen and are not removed unless it is absolutely necessary. If your doctors decide that removing a native kidney is necessary, they will discuss the reason with you. When you receive a kidney, it is placed in your pelvis. The blood supply is connected from your new kidney's vessels to the arteries and veins in the pelvis.

Learn more about evaluation for kidney transplant at Loyola.

What to Expect After Kidney Transplant Surgery

What are visiting hours? Visiting hours are set to allow you the time to recover after your surgery. Visiting hours for most hospital patients are from 9 am to 9 pm.

What will life be like after my transplant surgery? It should be very different. Some patients say that they never expected to feel so good. Every patient is different, and how you feel depends on what your health and activity level were prior to transplant. For kidney patients, no longer having to undergo hemodialysis three times a week or perform daily home dialysis brings tremendous freedom. You will still need routine lab tests and medical examinations to check for kidney function, but you should feel much better.

What procedures must I follow after my transplant? You must take specific precautions to prevent rejection. You will need to take your immunosuppressive drugs and other medications exactly as prescribed. You will also be instructed on how to limit your exposure to infection.

How long will I have to take the anti-rejection medication? You will have to take these medications for as long as you have a transplanted organ. The anti-rejection medications are extremely important and must be taken every day to prevent rejection. Taking your medications is one of the most important things you need to do after your transplant surgery.

Learn more about kidney transplant surgery at Loyola.

What to Expect with Living Kidney Donation

How can I become a donor or encourage a friend to become a donor? Loyola Medicine has partnered with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network as part of the Hospitals for Hope campaign. You can register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at the Hospitals for Hope website. Your decision can make an impact that will save and enhance countless lives. 

Does the donor have to be hospitalized for evaluation? All tests to evaluate a potential donor are done as an outpatient.

What does the donor’s pre-evaluation entail? The kidney donor evaluation is an extensive physical exam that includes laboratory tests to check not only kidney function, but also the health of all the other organs. This includes diagnostic tests to check the function of the potential donor’s heart and general overall health. A psychosocial evaluation is also performed to ensure that the donor can manage the emotional stress of donating a kidney and to make certain that the donation is being made without any pressure from others.

Is there an age limit for living donors? Kidney donors have to be a minimum age of 18 and of sound mind and judgment to make such an important decision.

Are there any restrictions resulting from kidney donation for living donors? After your full recovery, there are no lifestyle or work restrictions.

How are kidneys selected when a kidney patient has several donors? If a recipient has more than one willing donor and assuming they are all appropriate to donate, siblings are chosen first because they usually are the best match from an immune-system perspective. After siblings, a parent is next, depending on age and health. Then any other blood relative is considered. After blood relatives, donors usually can be anyone who has a close personal relationship with the recipient such as a spouse or a best friend. Altruistic donation, such as through our pay-it-forward program, matches transplant candidates with generous, selfless donors who would like to give a kidney to someone they don’t know.

Are living donors at greater risk for developing kidney disease later in life? Research has shown that people who were healthy and donated a kidney are at no greater risk for developing kidney failure than the same population in the general public.

What is recovery like for donors? It is different for every person. The nurses caring for you will encourage you to tell them about any pain you are having so they can ease your discomfort. Your doctors will monitor you closely for the first 24 hours after surgery, and you will begin to feel better within the first day. You will be encouraged to get up, walk around and do some deep breathing and coughing to prevent complications from the anesthesia.

As a donor, how long will my hospital stay be, and when can I go back to work? Most people go home the day after surgery. If you experience more pain than normal, you may be required to stay an extra day until your pain is under control. Our medical staff will send you home with pain medicine. Going back to work depends on the type of work you do; most people regardless of occupation can resume normal activities within a few days. The time needed for a complete recovery in order to return to all prior activity is approximately four to six weeks.

What should donors expect on an emotional level? This differs from person to person. Some people will feel very happy they were able to help someone in need of a life-saving organ. Other people might feel slightly depressed even though they helped someone in an incredible way. Some will feel completely the same afterward. The important point is that all of these emotions are completely normal feelings after donation. Everyone is unique in how they respond. Most organ donors report an overall positive response and experience.

Do living donors have to pay more for insurance after kidney donation? In the past, there were occasions when some had to pay more for life insurance after donating a kidney—but not necessarily health insurance. There also has been evidence that some health insurance companies attempted to charge patients higher premiums after donating a kidney; but under current healthcare laws, pre-existing conditions are no longer an issue.

Learn more about Loyola’s living kidney donor program.