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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?

Because the body can function with just one kidney, a kidney may be donated by another living person. Kidneys may also be recovered from a deceased person who designated organ donor on their driver’s license or whose family made the decision to donate on their behalf.

Kidneys can be transplanted 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. Penn partners with the National Kidney Registry (NKR) to facilitate transplants. The NKR helps to safely find compatible, well-matched donor-patient pairs from the largest living donor pool in the world. A better match increases graft survival and is correlated with more kidney life years post-transplant. Additionally, the patient outcomes from transplants facilitated by the National Kidney Registry exceed the average U.S. living donor transplant outcomes.

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.

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 is the process to become a living donor?

To begin the referral process, the person who wishes to become a donor must complete the registration form. Once the form is received, the donor candidate will be sent an email confirmation with a link to continue the online medical screening questionnaire. After the questionnaire has been fully completed, the donor candidate will be contacted within one week.

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.

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