Penn Transplant Institute

Kidney Transplant Frequently Asked Questions

People facing a kidney transplant often have questions about the process. The following is a list of some of the most common questions and their answers.

What are the kidneys and what do they do?

The kidneys are an important part of the body. Most people have two kidneys, but occasionally people are born with one kidney. The body can function normally if only 20 percent of one kidney is working.

The kidneys:

  • Rid the body of internal waste products
  • Control blood pressure
  • Help control blood production

Properly functioning kidneys can easily perform all of these tasks. Without adequate kidney function, there may be a build-up of poisonous waste products, high blood pressure, anemia, as well as fluid overload (too much fluid) that can cause swelling and shortness of breath.

When should someone be evaluated for a kidney transplant?

Someone should be evaluated for a kidney transplant when they are referred to begin dialysis treatments or when their glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is 20 percent or less.

Where do the kidneys for transplant come from?

A kidney for transplant may come from someone who has been declared "brain dead". The family of the person who has died makes the decision to donate their loved one's organs. Or because the body can function with just one kidney, a kidney may be donated by another living person.

Kidneys can be used from any person of any sex, race or ethnicity.

How long is the wait for a kidney to become available?

The average wait for a deceased donor kidney in this region is approximately five to seven years. If an eligible living donor is available, living kidney donation can dramatically reduce waiting time and may help the patient to avoid dialysis.

What is living kidney donation?

Living kidney donation is when a living person donates a kidney to someone in need of a kidney transplant.

Kidneys from a living donor have a better chance of long-term survival than those from a deceased donor. The Penn Transplant Institute has one of the largest and most experienced living donor transplant programs in the region.

Some of the important benefits of living donation are:

  • Shortens or removes the waiting time for a transplant.
  • Allows the procedure to be scheduled at a time convenient for both recipient and donor.
  • Shortens the time the kidney is outside the body, increasing the quality of the organ.
  • Allows for preemptive transplant, or transplant before dialysis. Preemptive transplant gives the best success and survival of both the kidney and the patient. The longer a patient stays on dialysis, the lower the survival and success rates for any type of transplant.

Learn more about living-kidney donation.

Is living kidney donation safe?

Living kidney donation is a safe surgical procedure. At the Penn Transplant Institute, an in-depth and comprehensive process is in place to evaluate each potential living donor. During the evaluation, the transplant team makes sure the surgery is medically safe and appropriate for the potential donor based on current life circumstances.

What are the benefits of kidney transplantation?
  • No longer need dialysis as long as kidney functions adequately.
  • Blood pressure is often easier to manage, but may still require medication.
  • Long-term follow-up care is less time-consuming than dialysis.
  • Fluid and dietary restrictions are usually no longer necessary.
  • Patients may return to work.
  • Improved quality of life with expected increase in lifespan.
  • More cost effective than dialysis.
What are the disadvantages of transplantation?
  • Risks involved from general anesthesia as with any major operation.
  • Addition of immunosuppressive medication (and possible side effects) to current medicines.
  • Need for continued care by a kidney specialist.
  • Transplantation is a treatment not a cure.

It is important to remember that your kidney function and response to the medications must be medically managed for a healthy, long-term outcome.