What is a kidney transplant?

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure performed to replace a diseased kidney with a healthy kidney from another person. The kidney may come from a deceased donor or from a living donor. Family members or individuals who are unrelated but make a good match may be able to donate one of their kidneys. This type of transplant is called a living transplant. Individuals who donate a kidney can live healthy lives with the remaining kidney.

A person receiving a transplant usually receives only one kidney, but, in rare situations, he or she may receive two kidneys from a deceased donor. In most cases, the diseased kidneys are left in place during the transplant procedure. The transplanted kidney is implanted in the lower abdomen on the front side of the body.

Why is a kidney transplant recommended?

A kidney transplant is recommended for persons who have serious kidney dysfunction and will not be able to live without dialysis or a transplant. Some of the kidney diseases for which transplants are done include the following conditions. However, not all cases of the following diseases require kidney transplantation. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis:

  • Congenital renal obstructive disorders leading to hydronephrosis, including the following:

    • Ureteropelvic junction obstruction

    • Vesicoureteral reflux

    • Posterior urethral valves

    • Prune belly syndrome

    • Megaureter

  • Congenital nephrotic syndrome

  • Alport syndrome

  • Nephropathic and juvenile cystinosis

  • Polycystic kidney disease

  • Nail-patella syndrome

  • Glomerulonephritis

  • Berger disease

  • Henoch-Schönlein purpura

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome

  • Wegener granulomatosis

  • Goodpasture syndrome

  • Diabetes

How many people in the United States need kidney transplants?

Visit United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for statistics of patients awaiting a kidney transplant, and the number of patients who underwent a transplant this year.

Where do transplanted organs come from?

The majority of kidneys that are transplanted come from deceased organ donors. Organ donors are adults who have become critically ill and will not live as a result of their illness. Kidneys are harvested after these adults are pronounced dead. Parents or spouses can also agree to donate a relative's organs. Donors can come from any part of the United States. This type of transplant is called a cadaveric transplant.

A person receiving a transplant usually receives only one kidney, but, in rare situations, he or she may receive two from a cadaveric (deceased) donor. Some experimentation with splitting one kidney for two recipients is underway. Family members or individuals who are unrelated but make a good match may also be able to donate one of their kidneys. This type of transplant is called a living transplant (living donor). Individuals who donate a kidney can live healthy lives with the kidney that remains. A child older than two years can generally receive an adult kidney, as there is usually enough space in the belly for the new kidney to fit.

According to the latest statistics from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there were 16,519 kidney transplants performed in 2008. Of that total, 10,551 were from deceased donors and 5,968 were from living donors.

How are transplanted organs allocated?

UNOS is responsible for transplant organ distribution in the United States. UNOS oversees the allocation of many different types of transplants, including liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung, and cornea.

UNOS receives data from hospitals and medical centers throughout the country regarding adults and children who need organ transplants. The medical transplant team that currently follows you is responsible for sending the data to UNOS, and updating them as your condition changes.

Criteria have been developed to ensure that all people on the waiting list are judged fairly as to the severity of their illness and the urgency of receiving a transplant. Once UNOS receives the data from local hospitals, people waiting for a transplant are placed on a waiting list and given a "status" code. The people in most urgent need of a transplant are placed highest on the status list, and are given first priority when a donor kidney becomes available.


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