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Kidney Transplant Process

Kidney transplantation is a surgical procedure performed to restore kidney function in people whose own kidneys are too diseased to function — also known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

The kidneys are located on either side of the spine behind the liver and stomach. They have a crucial role in the body, filtering the blood and balancing water, salt, and mineral levels.

End-stage kidney disease can be caused by many conditions, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Inherited kidney disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Urologic disease

Learn more about end-stage kidney disease in our Health Library.

Starting the Kidney Transplant Process

Once you decide that you want a kidney transplant, the next step is getting a referral from your physician. Then you will undergo an extensive health screening with our transplant team. This evaluation will help us determine the best treatment for you.

In addition to X-rays, blood and tissue typing, urine test, CT scan, ultrasounds scan, electrocardiogram and echocardiogram, your screening will also also include a nutritional evaluation and psychosocial and psychological testing. At this time our financial coordinator will review your insurance, transplant benefits and help plan your post transplant medication needs.

Getting On The Organ Transplant Waiting List

Following approval for transplantation, newly evaluated patients are added to the national United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) deceased kidney waiting list. Blood type, length of time on the waiting lists, and organ size are all considered when matching organs and recipients. Get more information on the organ transplantation process from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Kidney Donation: Deceased and Living Donors

According to the National Kidney Foundation, someone’s kidneys fail every five minutes. There are currently over 120,000 people on the waitlist, and every 14 minutes another person is added. The average wait time for a kidney from a deceased donor can be 3.5 years or longer.

Kidneys can come from either deceased or living donors. Because of the shortage of deceased donors, more and more people are considering living donors.

Types of donor kidney transplant:

  • Deceased donor kidney transplant
    A deceased kidney donation comes from a donor who is diagnosed as “brain dead” but whose other organs are functioning. The Center for Transplantation tests the functionality of deceased-donor kidneys through high-end technology before the kidneys are transplanted into recipients.
  • Living donor kidney transplant
    A living transplant comes from a living donor, such as a family member or close friend, who donates one of his or her kidneys. A living kidney donor eliminates the need to wait for a compatible deceased donor and results in improved long-term function of the transplanted kidney. Our kidney transplant team specializes in robot-assisted donor nephrectomy (kidney removal), a minimally invasive procedure that reduces the size of the incision for the removal of the donor kidney and speeds up recovery time for the donor. Learn more about living kidney donation.
  • Paired kidney transplantation
    A form of living donation, paired kidney transplant allows donors who are not blood- or tissue-compatible with their recipient to "exchange" their kidney with a donor who is compatible. This enables two recipients to receive organs with matched blood types. As part of the National Kidney Registry’s Paired Exchange Program, our team is able to perform this unique form of living kidney donor transplantation.

Kidney Transplant Surgery and Recovery

Kidney transplantation is performed under general anesthesia and the average operating time is three hours. In most cases, the existing kidneys and ureter are not disturbed. The donated kidney is placed in a different location (in the front of the lower abdomen and pelvis) and is surgically attached to the vessels that take blood to the leg.

Recovery may take one to two weeks and resuming normal activities may take up to a year. Quality of life usually improves dramatically and most people are able to lead healthy lives. However, there is still some risk of rejection, infection or cancer, so close monitoring of kidney function during this time is critical.

Rejection of a transplanted kidney occurs when the body identifies the organ as a foreign object. Up to 30 percent of people experience rejection to some degree. Most cases of rejection occur within the first six months following transplantation.

Anti-rejection medications, also known as immunosuppressive agents, are used to prevent and treat transplant organ rejection. These medications must be taken for life. Learn more about care after kidney transplantation in the Health Library.

​Appointments and Referrals

Center For Transplantation Location

La Jolla

Meet Our Specialists

UC San Diego Health Links

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Give the Gift of Life

More than 100,000 people were on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the United States in 2014, according to the National Kidney FoundationBy making the voluntary decision to be a living kidney donor, you give a healthy kidney to a person who needs one. All potential donors are medically screened to protect their health and safety. Learn more about living kidney donation.

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