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The Kidney Transplant Process at Lahey

One of the most exciting calls you can receive while on the kidney waiting list is when your surgeon tells you that a kidney has become available. This call can come at any time of day and any day of the week, so it is important for you to remain reachable at all times – at work, at home and even on vacation.

We recommend you give Lahey transplant team the phone numbers of close friends and family as well, in case you can’t be reached directly.

Kidney Transplant Preparation

Because it is impossible to predict when a deceased donor kidney will become available, we recommend that you are always prepared for when the time comes. An overnight bag should always be at the ready with clothes and items you might need at the hospital. We also suggest that you make a pre-arranged transportation plan with friends or family if necessary.

You’ll need to travel to Lahey as instructed by the surgeon. Often you’ll be asked to come immediately after the phone call. You’ll be asked to stop eating right away because your digestive tract should be empty during the transplant procedure. The quality of the deceased-donor kidney deteriorates over time once it is outside the body. Therefore, the faster it is transplanted, the faster the kidney function will recover after the surgery, and the fewer the complications.

At the Hospital

You will arrive a few hours before surgery. Your family will be allowed to accompany you in the pre-op area, where you’ll undergo a few preliminary tests.

You’ll be brought into the operating room on a gurney, where the anesthesiologist will place you under general anesthesia. Once you’re asleep, the anesthesiologist will insert a tube in your throat that will connect to a machine that helps you breathe (ventilator). You will also have a tube inserted (Foley catheter) into your bladder via the urethra to allow urine to drain during the long surgery, and a nasogastric tube through your nose to drain the contents of your stomach.

The Kidney Transplant Procedure

The operation takes about three hours. An incision will be made in your lower abdomen, either to the left or right side, depending on the side the surgeon has decided to place the kidney. There is no evidence that indicates one side is better than the other.

The new kidney will be placed through the incision and connected to the appropriate blood vessels and the ureter will be connected to your bladder. Your two natural kidneys will typically remain intact in their own position. The transplant surgery will not involve your own kidneys.

In most instances, the transplanted kidney will begin working almost immediately, slowly at first, then picking up more function over the course of a few days. Sometimes, the transplanted kidney is slow to start functioning and you may require some dialysis treatments until the transplanted kidney starts to function on its own. In general, it may take up to six weeks for the transplanted kidney to reach its best function.

Your Hospital Discharge

We anticipate you’ll be able to walk the day after surgery. Your hospital stay will typically range from 3 to 6 days. We will ask you to arrange for a friend, family member or transport service to take you home.

Kidney Transplant Recovery After Surgery at Lahey

When you return home we recommend you begin daily by walking 15 minutes a day and increasing this time as your body allows. This will help improve your circulation, lower your blood pressure, strengthen your cardiovascular system and reduce stress. Eventually you’ll be able to take part in more strenuous cardiovascular exercises, but you must get approval from the kidney transplant team first.

Anti-Rejection Medications

You will need to take several daily medications for as long as the donated kidney is functioning within your body. These medications are called immunosuppressants (they suppress your immune system) and are necessary to reduce the possibility that your immune system will attack the new kidney.

Our post-transplant nurse coordinator and kidney transplant pharmacist will instruct you on all aspects of the medication, including how to look for signs of organ rejection.

By lowering your defenses, you may be vulnerable to infections from sources that would not typically be a problem. Our transplant coordinators and nephrologists will teach you how to look for other signs of infection. If you suspect you have an infection, contact the transplant center immediately.

Kidney Transplant Recovery Timeline

Here is what you can generally expect during your kidney transplant recovery:

  • In 1 day: You’ll be able to walk and stretch.
  • In 2-4 weeks: You may resume driving a car, upon authorization from the transplant team.
  • In 2 months: You may do simple aerobics, such as jogging or swimming. You may consider returning to work or school.
  • In 3 months: You may lift up to 20 or 30 pounds. Most kidney transplant recipients are back to work or school full-time.
  • In 6 months: You may return to all of your normal activities including strenuous exercise and heavy lifting.