How Is Kidney Transplant Surgery Done?

Kidney transplant surgery involves two (2) separate operations.  First, an operation is required to remove a healthy kidney from a kidney donor.  Secondly, the donated kidney has to be transplanted into the patient (recipient), whose kidneys have failed.

Kidney Transplant Surgery

If successful, a kidney transplant operation restores sufficient kidney function so that the patient may no longer need dialysis.  In most cases, the patient's life is extended by many years and they are able to enjoy a much better quality of life.

In order to increase the likelihood of a successful kidney transplant, however, extensive planning and preparation is necessary.

Before a kidney transplant operation is recommended or performed, a number of factors must first be considered.  These include the age of the patient, the patient's health and the availability of a suitable donated kidney.

It is also extremely important that the blood and tissue profiles of the recipient and the donor are closely matched. This minimizes the risk of the transplanted kidney being rejected by the recipient's immune system.

Improvements in medications that suppress the immune system, to some extent, reduce the need for perfect matching. Nevertheless, close matching of the blood and tissue profiles of the recipient and donor is necessary, in order to increase the chances of a successful kidney transplant.

A healthy donated kidney can be taken from either a living donor (usually a blood relative) or a deceased (dead) organ donor (within 24 hours of the donor's death).

Kidney Transplant Surgery Process

A kidney transplant surgery is two dimensional.  It begins with the removal of a healthy kidney from a donor, then transplanting the kidney to a recipient patient.  The most current technique for removing a healthy kidney from a living donor is called Laparoscopy.  With this procedure, several dime-shaped incisions are made in the abdomen of the donor.  Hollow tubes are then inserted into the incisions.  A fiber optic camera is placed into one of the incision to transmit images onto a monitor.  This allows the surgeons to view the kidney during the operation.

Surgical instruments for retrieving the kidney are placed in the other tubes.  The kidney of the donor is then encased in plastic then removed by the surgeons. After the operation the donor usually requires two to three days in the hospital to recover.

The healthy kidney is then transplanted into the recipient patient through a surgical incision in the lower abdomen.  The blood supply to the new kidney is then established by attaching the veins and arteries of the recipient to the transplanted kidney, which is then attached to the nearest ureter (tube joining the kidney to the bladder).

When the new kidney is transplanted, the patient's existing diseased kidneys may or may not be removed, depending on the circumstances which may have caused the patient's kidneys to fail. For example, if cancer is the cause of kidney failure, the diseased kidneys will almost certainly be removed.

The entire procedure of removing a kidney from a donor and transplanting it to a recipient takes an average of three hours.  After the kidney transplant operation, a regimen of immunosuppressive (or anti-rejection) medication and a special diet are required.  This helps to suppress the immune system of the recipient, to reduce the risk of their immune system rejecting the donated kidney.  The greatest risk after a kidney transplant is the risk that the recipient's immune system may reject the new kidney. It is, therefore, important to have proper post-surgery care for the recipient. This risk is minimized by immunosuppressive (or anti-rejection) medication.

Once the recipient's immune system does not reject the kidney and it begins to function properly, the patient can lead a relatively normal life.  Successful kidney transplants have provided tremendous benefits to the recipient. In most cases the patient does not require further dialysis.  Their life is extended by many years and they are able to enjoy a much better quality of life.

A kidney transplant surgery is relatively safe and it is the most effective treatment available to patients with chronic end stage renal disease. It offers patients enormous hope of a longer and significantly better quality of life. Unfortunately, however, many patients in need of a kidney transplant surgery have great difficulty finding a donor... since the demand for kidney donors, or donated kidneys, far exceeds the availability.

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