What is the process of a kidney transplant? 

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure consisting of a healthy donor kidney being placed into the body of a person whose kidneys are no longer able to function properly.  A donor kidney can come from a deceased donor, some one who has just died, or a living donor, usually a family member, friend, or sometimes a stranger.  For most people suffering from End-stage-renal-disease (ESRD), a kidney transplant may be the best option to treat the disease kidneys.

Steps & Challenges in Kidney Transplantation

Who is a candidate for a kidney transplant?

A person who has been diagnosed with kidney failure with a glomerular filtration rate of less than 20 and has not yet started dialysis or a person who is currently on dialysis.

Do I need to go on dialysis if I'm expecting to get a transplant?

It may take time for the evaluation process to be complete for both the donor and the recipient to be cleared, so patients may need to go on dialysis before they get a transplant to keep healthy in time for the surgery.

How do I get placed on the transplant waiting list?

To be evaluated for a placement on the national kidney transplant waiting list, a referral to a transplant center from your nephrologist and clearance from you health insurance provider are needed.  Once clearance from your health insurance has been established, an extensive medical evaluation will be required by the transplant center.  After you have completed your medical evaluation, the transplant team members will be the one’s to determine whether you are a suitable candidate for a kidney transplant. You will be added to the national wait list if you are deemed a suitable candidate.

Understanding the costs involved with a kidney transplant:

The process of receiving a kidney transplant involves costs before, during, and after the actual kidney transplant. The costs are the responsibility of the recipient.  Critical extensive financial planning will aid in the long-term success of your kidney transplant.

Costs includes: 

  • Laboratory tests, organ procurement, transplant surgeons, and other operating room personnel.
  • In-hospital stays, transportation to and from the transplant hospital for surgery and for checkups, parking fees depending on the location of the transplant center.
  • Lodging depending on how far you live from the transplant center.
  • Medications, including immunosuppressive or anti-rejection medications which are very costly.

Health insurance may cover some or most of the cost, however insurance policies vary widely.  Contact you health insurance provider to obtain detailed information about how your insurance company handles the costs related to your specific situation.

The kidney transplant recipient is responsible for any costs not covered by the insurance.  Different types of financial resources will have to be considered to help pay for the costs not covered.  Some examples are savings, sale of property, or fundraising. Members of the transplant team such as the transplant center’s social worker and financial coordinator may be able help you develop a financial plan or may be able to put you in contact with organizations that provide financial assistance to kidney transplant recipients.

What to expect during a kidney transplant:

On average, a kidney transplant surgery takes approximately 3-5 hours. Your newly transplanted kidney may start working right away or may take up to a few weeks to make urine.  It is a possibility dialysis treatment may be needed to jump start the newly transplanted kidney.

What to expect after a kidney transplant:

After your kidney transplant, you typically will need to stay in the hospital for several days to recover from surgery, and longer if you have complications.  While in the hospital, the transplant team will be managing your pain, anti-rejection, immunosuppressant medications, and other medications.   Upon discharge from your hospitalization, the patient and his or her caregiver will be given several medications with specific educations and instructions will be given on which medication, how often, what time the medications should be taken and side effects that must be reported.   Be sure you understand the instructions for taking your medications before you leave the hospital. You will be required to return for multiple laboratories and transplant follow-up appointments the first few weeks after your surgery. These follow-up appointments are very important and necessary to check for complications after surgery and adjusting your medications to the proper dosage.  Once the transplant team deems your newly transplanted kidney functions are stable, your follow-up appointments will be less.  Talk to your transplant team to help you better understand your follow-up appointments.

For more information on how to become a living kidney donor through UCLA Health, please visit https://www.uclakidneydonor.org/.


Disclaimer: The UCLA Health System cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information. The information is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. Please speak to your Physician before making any changes.