Recipient Surgery - Kidney Transplantation
If you have advanced and permanent kidney failure, kidney transplantation may be the treatment option that allows you to live much like you lived before your kidneys failed. Since the 1950s, when the first kidney transplants were performed, much has been learned about preventing rejection and minimizing the side effects of medicines.
But transplantation is not a cure; it’s an ongoing treatment that requires you to take medicines for the rest of your life. A successful transplant takes a coordinated effort from your whole health care team, including your nephrologist, transplant surgeon, transplant coordinator, pharmacist, dietitian, and social worker. But the most important members of your health care team are you and your family. By learning about your treatment, you can work with your health care team to give yourself the best possible results, and you can lead a full, active life.
When Your Kidneys Fail
Healthy kidneys clean your blood by removing excess fluid, minerals, and wastes. They also make hormones that keep your bones strong and your blood healthy. When your kidneys fail, harmful wastes build up in your body, your blood pressure may rise, and your body may retain excess fluid and not make enough red blood cells. When this happens, you need treatment to replace the work of your failed kidneys.
How Transplantation Works
Kidney transplantation is a procedure that places a healthy kidney from another person into your body. This one new kidney takes over the work of your two failed kidneys.
A surgeon places the new kidney inside your lower abdomen and connects the artery and vein of the new kidney to your artery and vein. Your blood flows through the new kidney, making urine like your kidneys did when they were healthy. Unless they are causing infection or high blood pressure, your kidneys are left in place.
The Transplant Process
YOUR DOCTOR’S RECOMMENDATION
The transplantation process begins when you learn that your kidneys are failing, and you must start to consider your treatment options. Whether transplantation is among your options will depend on your specific situation. Transplantation isn’t for everyone. Your doctor may tell you that you have a condition that would make transplantation dangerous or unlikely to succeed.
MEDICAL EVALUATION AT A TRANSPLANT CENTER
If your doctor sees transplantation as an option, the next step is a thorough medical evaluation at a transplant hospital. The pretransplant evaluation may require several visits over several weeks or even months. You’ll need to have blood drawn and x rays taken, and you’ll be tested for blood type and other matching factors that determine whether your body will accept an available kidney.
The medical team will want to see whether you’re healthy enough for surgery. Cancer, a serious infection, or significant cardiovascular disease would make transplantation unlikely to succeed. In addition, the medical team will want to make sure that you can understand and follow the schedule for taking medicines.
HOW IS A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT PROCEDURE PERFORMED?
There are two major sources of potential kidney donors:
- Living related donors: Close relatives of the patient. E.g., parents, siblings, children, and grandparents are the most potential donors. A normal individual has two kidneys, and a person can easily live in good health with one kidney without any complications. Kidney donation does not harm the physical strength or the donor’s lifestyle.
- Cadaver donors: A cadaver kidney is available from the individual declared as brain-dead. For example, for a person who expired due to an accident or stroke, the reason must be non-kidney related. In several cases, the cadaver kidney may not be a feasible candidate for the transplantation, as, firstly, all the pre-screening criteria should match the patient. In an unsuccessful match, the patient would have to wait further.
Suitability is initially based on two factors:
- Blood type. Your blood type (A, B, AB, or O) must be compatible with the donor’s blood type.
- HLA factors. HLA stands for human leukocyte antigen, a genetic marker located on the surface of your white blood cells. You inherit a set of three antigens from your mother and three from your father. A higher number of matching antigens increases the chance that your kidney will last long.
If you’re selected based on the first two factors, a third is evaluated:
- Antibodies. Your immune system may produce antibodies that act specifically against something in the donor’s tissues. A small sample of your blood will be mixed with a small sample of the donor’s blood in a tube to see whether this is the case. If no reaction occurs, you should be able to accept the kidney. Your transplant team might use a negative cross-match to describe this lack of reaction.
If you have a living donor, you’ll schedule the operation in advance. You and your donor will be operated on simultaneously, usually in side-by-side rooms. One team of surgeons will perform the nephrectomy-that is, the removal of the kidney from the donor-while another prepares the recipient for placement of the donated kidney.
If you’re on a waiting list for a deceased donor kidney, you must be ready to hurry to the hospital as soon as a kidney becomes available. Once there, you’ll give a blood sample for the antibody cross-match test. If you have a negative cross-match, your antibodies don’t react, and the transplantation can proceed.
You’ll be given a general anesthetic to make you sleep during the operation, which usually takes 3 or 4 hours. The surgeon will make a small cut in your lower abdomen. The artery and vein from the new kidney will be attached to your artery and vein. The ureter from the new kidney will be connected to your bladder.
Often, the new kidney will start making urine as soon as your blood starts flowing through it, but sometimes a few weeks pass before it starts working.
RECOVERY FROM SURGERY
After any major surgery, you’ll probably feel sore and groggy when you wake up. However, many transplant recipients report feeling much better immediately after surgery. Even if you wake up feeling great, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for about a week to recover from surgery and longer if you have any complications.
Your body’s immune system is designed to keep you healthy by sensing “foreign invaders,” such as bacteria, and rejecting them. But your immune system will also sense that your new kidney is foreign. To keep your body from rejecting it, you’ll have to take drugs that turn off or suppress your immune response. You may have to take two or more of these immunosuppressant medicines and medications to treat other health problems. Your health care team will help you learn what each pill is for and when to take it. Be sure that you understand the instructions for taking your medicines before leaving the hospital.
If you’ve been on hemodialysis, you’ll find that your post-transplant diet is much less restrictive. You can drink more fluids and eat many fruits and vegetables you were previously told to avoid. You may even need to gain a little weight, but be careful not to gain weight too quickly and avoid salty foods that can lead to high blood pressure.
You can help prevent rejection by taking your medicines and following your diet, but watching for signs of rejection-like fever or soreness in the area of the new kidney or a change in the amount of urine you make, is important. Report any such changes to your health care team.
Even if you do everything you’re supposed to do, your body may still reject the new kidney, and you may need to go back on dialysis. Unless your health care team determines that you’re no longer a good candidate for transplantation, you can go back on the waiting list for another kidney.
SIDE EFFECTS OF IMMUNOSUPPRESSANTS
Immunosuppressants can weaken your immune system, which can lead to infections. Some drugs may also change your appearance. Your face may get fuller; you may gain weight or develop acne or facial hair. Not all patients have these problems, though, and diet and makeup can help.
Immunosuppressants work by diminishing the ability of immune cells to function. In some patients, this diminished immunity can increase the risk of developing cancer over long periods. Some immunosuppressants cause cataracts, diabetes, extra stomach acid, high blood pressure, and bone disease. These drugs may also cause liver or kidney damage in a few patients when used over time.
Treatment for kidney failure is expensive, and post-surgery, also you need to spend a good amount of money on your routine prescribed drugs.
Post Transplant Care:
Once the transplantation is performed, the patient needs to stay in the hospital for a regular diagnosis with regular follow-ups by the doctor. One would even need to get his blood regularly tested at least for 1-2 months. The average recovery period is about six months. The patient needs to get regular blood tests and x-rays done for the next few years, even after the recovery.