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Learning About Kidney Transplant Surgery

Diseased kidneys and transplanted kidney

What is a kidney transplant?

A kidney transplant is surgery to give you a healthy kidney from another person. The new kidney may come from someone you know. Or it may come from a stranger or a person who has died.

You may need a transplant if your kidneys don't work as they should. This can happen if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or another illness.

You need only one kidney to live. The new kidney can do the work that your own kidneys cannot. It will remove waste from your blood. And it will balance your body's fluids and chemicals.

A new kidney can improve the quality of your life. You are likely to feel better and have more energy.

It can take a long time to get a new kidney. You have to meet some rules first. For example, your overall health (other than kidney problems) has to be fairly good.

If a relative or another living person has a kidney that is a good match, you may not have to wait long. If you need a kidney from a person who has died, your name will be put on a waiting list.

How is a kidney transplant done?

If a relative or another living person gives you a kidney, you will be able to plan your surgery. But if you are on a waiting list to get a kidney from a person who has died, your surgery could happen very suddenly. When a donor kidney is available, you will probably have surgery within 36 hours.

The doctor will make a cut (incision) in your lower belly. The doctor will place the donated kidney in your lower belly. He or she will connect the blood vessels of the new kidney to your blood vessels. Then the doctor will connect the ureter of the new kidney to your bladder. (A ureter is the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder.) Your own kidneys will not be taken out unless they are causing problems.

The doctor will finish the surgery by closing the cut with stitches or surgical staples. He or she will remove these about 1 to 3 weeks after surgery. The cut will leave a scar that will fade with time.

What can you expect after a kidney transplant?

Within a few days, you may begin to feel much better than you did before. But you may have some pain or soreness in your belly or side. This can last for several weeks.

Most people go home from the hospital 5 to 10 days after surgery. It will probably take about 4 weeks before you can get back to your job or usual activities.

After surgery, the new kidney will start to do the work that your own kidneys cannot. It will remove waste from your blood and balance your body's fluids and chemicals. Your new kidney may start working very soon after surgery. Or it may take a few weeks. If your kidney does not start to work right away, you will need to have dialysis until the new kidney can take over.

After the transplant, you will have to take medicines every day for the rest of your life. The medicines will help keep your body from rejecting the new kidney. These medicines will also make your immune system weaker. This means you will be more likely to get an infection or become sick. To reduce your risk of infection, wash your hands often. Stay away from crowds of people, and avoid contact with people who have a cold or the flu.

If your body starts to reject the kidney, your doctor may be able to stop the rejection. But if not, you will need to have dialysis again. It is possible that you can have another transplant.

You may have many different emotions after your kidney transplant. You may feel grateful and happy. But you also may feel guilty or depressed. These feelings are common. It may help to talk about your feelings with your doctor and family.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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