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How to Prepare for a Kidney Transplant

The kidney transplant team at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center helps you prepare for surgery and answers all of your questions. You may receive a call about an available kidney at any time of the day or night. We ask that you make sure we can always reach you at work, at home or on vacation. We recommend you provide our transplant team the phone numbers of close friends and family as well.
You should always be prepared to come to Lahey for a kidney transplant. Put together an overnight bag with clothes and other items you’ll need at the hospital. We also recommend you arrange a transportation plan with family or friends.
Our team will give you specific instructions before your surgery. Usually, you’ll have to come in immediately after our phone call. You have 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. We want you to have the transplant right away, so your kidney function recovers faster after the surgery, and you’ll have fewer complications.

Your Kidney Transplant

You should arrive a few hours before surgery. Your family is allowed to accompany you in the pre-op area, where you’ll have a few preliminary tests. You will enter the operating room on a gurney, and the anesthesiologist places you under general anesthesia. Once you are asleep, the anesthesiologist inserts a tube in your throat that connects to a machine that helps you breathe (ventilator). You’ll 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 operation typically takes about three hours. We make an incision 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.
Once the incision is made, we place the new kidney and connect the appropriate blood vessels.
In most cases, the transplanted kidney begins working almost immediately. It works slowly at first, but picks up more function in a few days. Sometimes, the transplanted kidney is slow to start functioning, and you may require dialysis. In general, it may take up to six weeks for a transplanted kidney to reach its best function.

Your Recovery

You should be able to walk the day after surgery. Your hospital stay typically ranges from three to six days. We ask you to arrange for a friend, family member or transport service to take you home.
Our transplant team works with you to make sure you have the best recovery. We have a transplant wellness program and support groups to help you during recovery. We also coordinate follow-ups with your primary care team. You’ll see our specialists at least once a year for the rest of your life.
When you return home, you should begin walking 15 minutes a day and increase the time as your body allows. This helps improve your circulation, lower your blood pressure, strengthen your cardiovascular system and reduce stress. Eventually, you can take part in more strenuous cardiovascular exercises, but you must get approval from your kidney transplant team first.

Taking Anti-Rejection Medications

You’ll need to take several daily medications for as long as the donated kidney is functioning within your body. These medications are called immunosuppressants and are necessary to reduce the possibility that your immune system attacks the new kidney.
Our post-transplant nurse coordinator and kidney transplant pharmacist will educate you about the medications you will be taking, including how to look for signs of organ rejection.
By lowering your immune defenses, you may be vulnerable to infections from sources that would not typically be a problem. Our transplant team teaches you how spot other signs of infection. If you suspect you have an infection, contact the transplant center immediately.

Kidney Transplant Recovery Times

A typical recovery timeline:
  • In one day: You can walk and stretch.
  • In two to four weeks: You may resume driving a car, upon authorization from the transplant team.
  • In two months: You may do simple aerobics, such as jogging or swimming. You may consider returning to work or school.
  • In three months: You may lift up to 20 or 30 pounds. Most kidney transplant recipients return to work or school full-time.
  • In six months: You may return to all of your normal activities including strenuous exercise and heavy lifting.