Center for Transplantation

Kidney Transplant Surgery

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure to place a functioning kidney from a donor into a person whose kidneys no longer work properly. Your kidneys remove excess fluid and waste from your blood. When your kidneys lose their filtering ability, dangerous levels of fluid and waste accumulate in your body - a condition known as kidney failure. A kidney transplant is often the best treatment for kidney failure.

Only one donated kidney is needed to replace two failed kidneys, making living-donor kidney transplantation an option. If a compatible living donor is not available for a kidney transplant, your name may be placed on a kidney transplant waiting list to receive an organ from a deceased donor. This wait-time could be up to two years.

A kidney transplant is used to treat kidney failure, a condition in which your kidneys can function at only a fraction of normal capacity. People with end-stage kidney disease need either artificial blood filtering (dialysis) or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

Common causes of end-stage kidney failure include:

  • Diabetes
  • Chronic, uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Chronic glomerulonephritis — an inflammation and eventual scarring of the tiny filters within your kidneys (glomeruli)

Sometimes kidney failure can be managed with diet, medication and treatment for the underlying cause. If despite these steps, your kidneys still cannot filter your blood adequately, you might be a candidate for a kidney transplant.

Complications of the procedure

Kidney transplant surgery carries a risk of complications, including:

  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding
  • Leakage from or blockage of the tube (ureter) that links the kidney to the bladder
  • Infection
  • Failure of the donated kidney
  • Rejection of the donated kidney

Anti-rejection medication side effects

After a kidney transplant, you will take medications to help prevent your body from rejecting the donor kidney. These medications can cause a variety of side effects, including:

  • Acne
  • Bone thinning
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive hair growth
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased risk of cancer, particularly skin cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Infection
  • Puffiness (edema)
  • Weight gain

What you can expect during a kidney transplant

Kidney transplants are performed with general anesthesia, so you are not aware during the procedure. The surgical team monitors your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen level throughout the procedure.

During the surgery:

  • The surgeon makes an incision and places the new kidney in your lower abdomen. Unless your own kidneys are causing complications such as high blood pressure or infection, they are left in place.
  • The blood vessels of the new kidney are attached to blood vessels in the lower part of your abdomen, just above one of your legs.
  • The new kidney's ureter — the tube that links the kidney to the bladder — is connected to your bladder.
  • Kidney transplant surgery usually lasts about three to four hours.