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Renal transplant or kidney transplant is typically considered when the kidneys are in failure, are unlikely to recover, and won’t be able to do the work the body needs to remain alive. Experience of renal transplant can be different for each person, and depending on what transplant center is used. There are some things in common though, no matter where people get their kidney transplant.
Typically patients discuss the risk versus benefits of getting a renal transplant with doctors who have been managing their kidney failure. Should patients decide they are interested in transplant, doctors can then refer them to a transplant center. Not all hospitals perform kidney transplants, and some people may need to travel out of their home area in order to find a hospital that specializes in this surgery. On the other hand, some areas have several facilities that perform kidney transplant. Choosing one could mean doing some interviewing, checking which ones take health insurance, and getting recommendations from doctors or others about each hospital.
Usually, the hospital will assess any patient who wants to have a renal transplant to determine fitness for surgery. Overall health and behavior may be examined, and principally, doctors want to know that a patient has all the markers for surviving the surgery and post-operative care. Some people don’t qualify for transplant.
Another decision for many people is where to get a kidney. A person who may be on a waiting list for a long time to get a kidney might look to friends or family who could donate one, or they could ask friends or family if they are desperately ill and will not survive long without transplant. Other people use donor organs, but these may be hard to get and people are listed on priority status for organ donation. Moreover the kidney must be a close enough match that it won’t be rejected after surgery.
When a kidney is available either by voluntary family donation or through an anonymous donor, patients will usually need to get to the transplant center quickly. They may need to live close to it, because organs only have a certain amount of time in which they can be used. Those with voluntary family or friend donations won’t have this rush, but those depending on a donor organ from an unknown source will need to stay close by. Some people may already be hospitalized anyway if they are in end stage renal failure.
Renal transplant surgeries that are uncomplicated last anywhere from four to eight hours and might require even less time. People will be under anesthesia, so the procedure will seem to take no time from a patient perspective. Once the surgery is over, patients are usually transferred to the intensive care unit for the first few days so they receive the most careful scrutiny. Patients may expect some discomfort at first, and they can expect lots of tests from doctors and nurses to assess health. Many patients are sufficiently recovered, however, to leave the hospital in under a week.
As soon as renal transplant occurs, doctors must begin giving anti-rejection medications. The goal is to give enough to prevent rejection without making patients feel sick from taking the drugs. Finding the right balance can take a while. Some patients no longer stay on anti-rejection meds forever and are able to go off them after an initial period. Also, some patients reject organs in spite of medications. With successful transplant and medication management many people can resume normal activities, but will need more frequent doctor visits to assess continuing transplant health and overall health.
The survival rates on renal transplant may vary by center. Since this technology is constantly evolving, percentages may be subject to change. Of those patients who receive a kidney transplant from family, at year’s end 95% were still living, and about 90% of those who receive an anonymous donor organ are still alive. This rate drops to 80% in five years. However, the percentage is lower at the five-year rate when a close match relative did not provide the donor kidney.