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Transplant from a donor who has died

What happens when UNOS matches me with a kidney?

When UNOS matches you with a kidney, you will get a phone call asking you to come to the hospital. A kidney from a donor who has died has to be transplanted in 1-2 days, so the process will move very fast.

How to prepare for surgery

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  • Keep a folder of important papers – such as insurance information and important phone numbers
  • Tell a loved one about the transplant process so they can be ready to drive you when the call comes

Before the surgery

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  1. You will get a call to come to the hospital for surgery. The hospital will tell you not eat or drink anything. They’ll also ask:
    • When you last had dialysis
    • What medicines you’re taking
    • How your current health is
  2. In the hospital, your transplant team will ask you many questions to prepare you for surgery.
  3. They may also do a dialysis treatment if you need one.
  4. Doctors will put an IV in your vein.
  5. Doctors will retest the kidney to make sure it’s a match before surgery. This is called a crossmatch.
  6. You will go into the operating room, where a nurse will explain what will happen. Then, an anesthesiologist will meet with you and discuss the anesthesia. An anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives you medicines to put you to sleep and prevent pain during the surgery.
  7. After you’re asleep, your doctor will put a catheter in your bladder, which is a small tube to collect urine after surgery.

The transplant surgery

icon for kidney transplant from live donor

The surgery can take 3-4 hours. So from the time you’re waiting for surgery until you wake up in recovery, it takes about 4-8 hours. During the surgery:

  1. You will be under general anesthesia, which will put you to sleep and prevent pain.
  2. A machine will help you breathe well during surgery.
  3. Doctors make a cut in your lower belly to put in your new kidney.
  4. The donated organ is placed into your body through this cut.
  5. They connect your new kidney to your bladder.
  6. The new kidney starts making urine, often during the surgery.
  7. A tube will help drain urine from your bladder for a few days after surgery.

Surgery and recovery

Watch this video about transplant surgery and recovery.

After the surgery

  1. Doctors will take you to the recovery room or intensive care unit (ICU) after surgery. Nurses and doctors will watch you carefully and give you IV fluids and pain medicines. You will also get anti-rejection medicines right away.
  2. The day after surgery, your transplant team will have you sitting in a chair and walking to help avoid problems from the surgery. You may not be able to eat for a few days after surgery.
  3. After about 2-4 days, your doctors will fine-tune your medicines so you can go home.
  4. After you go home, your doctors will keep a careful watch over you with checkups and labs tests to make sure the kidney works well and there are no signs of rejection or infection. This can be a few times a week at first and then less often as time goes on.

When you wake up from your surgery, you may:

  • Feel pain near the cuts from your surgery until they heal
  • Feel like you need to urinate (pee) often or very strongly for a few days if you didn’t urinate often before your transplant
  • Have trouble passing stool (poop) and need medicines to help

When you go home from the hospital

icon for kidney transplant from live donor

By the time you go home from the hospital, you will start to feel like yourself again. You’ll have pain medicines and may feel tired and weak for several weeks. Most recipients are out of work for 2-4 weeks but may not feel completely normal for up to 3 months.

When you go home:

  • Shower daily, wash your incision with soap and water, and pat dry
  • Eat normal, healthy meals
  • Start your normal activities at your own pace, making sure that you walk daily and stay active
    • Avoid lifting more than 5 lbs. for 6 weeks, unless your doctor gives you other instructions
    • Don’t drive for several weeks
  • If you get a fever or have fluid leaking from your stitches, call the transplant office and speak to your nurse or doctor

You’ll need to visit the transplant center for checkups a few times in the first year after the surgery and then once a year after that. Checkups will happen after:

  • 2 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • Every year for 2‒5 more years

If you ever feel sick, call the transplant center even if you don’t have a scheduled checkup.

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