Kidneys are vital
organs that filter blood to remove waste, extra fluid, and salt from the body. If
they stop working, it's known as kidney failure. A person with kidney failure must
go on dialysis
or get a kidney transplant.
What Is a Kidney Transplant?
A kidney transplant is an operation where doctors put a new kidney
in the body of someone whose own kidneys no longer work. One healthy kidney will do
the work of two failed kidneys.
Because people can survive with one kidney, a living person can give a healthy
kidney to someone with kidney failure (this is called being a donor).
A kidney also can come from a donor who has recently died, but the wait for this kind
of donated kidney can often take a year or more.
Most kidney transplants are successful. People who have kidney transplants will
take medicines for the rest of their lives to prevent the body from rejecting the
kidney. Rejecting means that the body's immune cells destroy the transplanted kidney
because they sense that it's foreign.
But aside from that, many teens who have kidney transplants go on to live normal,
healthy lives after they recover from surgery.
What Are the Different Types of Kidney Transplants?
There are two kinds of kidney transplants depending on who donates the new kidney.
A living-donor transplant is when a person with kidney failure
gets a kidney from someone who is still alive and well. It's usually from a relative
or close friend, but sometimes strangers donate.
A deceased-donor transplant is when people donate their kidneys
for transplant after they die. This requires people who need kidneys to put their
names on a waiting list until a suitable donor can be found.
What Happens Before a Kidney Transplant?
If your doctor thinks you can have a kidney transplant, your first step is to visit
a transplant center. A health care team there will check to make sure you're healthy
enough to have surgery and take the medicines you'll need to use after the transplant.
This will include blood tests, X-rays, and other tests, and can take a few weeks or
If the transplant team decides you're a good candidate, the next step is to find
a kidney. In most living related transplant cases, a kidney comes from a close
relative or friend who has a compatible blood type.
If a living donor can't be found, your name will go on a waiting list until a kidney
from a deceased donor is matched to you. The need for new kidneys is far greater than
the number donated, so this can take a long time.
If your name is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, you'll need to stay
in close touch with your doctors and the rest of your health care team. Make sure
they know how to reach you at all times.
While you wait for a transplant, do your best to stay as healthy as possible. That
way, you'll be ready for transplant surgery when the time comes. Be sure to:
eat healthy foods and follow any special diet recommendations from the doctor,
nurse, or dietitian
take all medicines as directed
keep all medical appointments
Tell your doctor and the transplant center right away if there is any change
in your health.
What Happens During a Kidney Transplant?
You will probably give doctors a blood sample so they can do an antibody
cross-match test. This finds out if your immune system will accept the new
kidney. If the test comes back negative, the kidney is acceptable. You'll also have
other blood tests, a chest X-ray, and an EKG.
In the operating room, you'll get general anesthesia
so you'll sleep through the operation. The surgeon will make a small cut in the lower
belly, just above your hips. The new kidney is placed, then surgeon attaches its blood
vessels (artery and vein) to blood vessels in your lower body. Then the new kidney's
ureter (a tube that carries pee from the kidney to the bladder) is connected to your
In most cases, your own kidneys stay in place. They won't be removed unless they
cause problems like high blood pressure, loss of protein, or an infection. Kidney
transplant surgery usually takes about 3 to 4 hours. If you need more than one organ
(such as a combined kidney–liver transplant), the surgery time will be longer.
What Happens After a Kidney Transplant?
After kidney transplant surgery, you'll spend a week or two in the hospital as
you recover. Your health care team will watch you to make sure there are no complications
from the surgery, such as bleeding or infection.
You'll also learn what medicines you need to keep your body from rejecting the
new kidney. These are called immunosuppressants. Taking them can
make you more likely to get infections, especially in the days right after surgery.
So be sure to stay away from sick people. Everyone at home should wash their hands
well and often.
For the first couple of months after surgery, you'll need to see the doctor a lot
to make sure your new kidney is working normally. If you get a fever or soreness
in the area of the transplant, tell a doctor right away. These could be signs
that your body isn't accepting the new kidney or that you have an infection.
But with surgery and immunosuppressant medicines, the success rate of kidney transplants
is very high.
What Else Should I Know?
In about 3–6 months, there's a good chance you'll be back to doing most of
the things you enjoyed before your kidneys failed. You may have to cut back on rough
contact sports, though. Sports like football, hockey and wrestling can lead to injuries
that could damage the new kidney.
If you have questions about whether a sport is a good idea for you, talk to your
doctor before you start playing. A kidney shield (a piece of plastic worn under your
clothing) can protect the transplanted kidney and allow you to play some sports.
Ease back into activities while you recover. Eating well, taking your medicines
at the correct times, keeping a healthy body weight, and following up with your transplant
team will help keep your new kidney healthy.
Dealing With Feelings
with a chronic condition like kidney failure can be frustrating. Things like dialysis,
time spent waiting for a donor kidney, surgery, and taking medicines can add stress.
Some people feel depressed
or anxious. It can be a lot to deal with!
Immunosuppressant therapy can be especially hard for teens because it does have
some side effects. The medicines you'll take to stop your body rejecting the kidney
can cause acne,
weight gain, mood swings, and trouble sleeping. If you notice side effects, talk to
your doctor to see if anything can help. But never change or stop taking a medicine
without talking to your doctor or nurse.
If it seems like the stress of living with kidney failure or having transplant
surgery is more than you can handle, talk to someone. A parent is best, since your
mom or dad will probably be going through it all with you.
But some teens find help by talking to a therapist
or joining a support group. Online resources include the National
Kidney Center's Facebook page and Transplant
Living. You also can ask the transplant team if the hospital has (or knows of)
a support group for teens who've had kidney transplants.