Ask the Doctors Patient Care Transplant Surgery

Ask the Doctors: Kidney Transplant

When a person has kidney failure, they need treatment to replace the work their own kidneys can no longer do. There are two types of treatment for kidney failure: dialysis or transplant. Many people feel that a kidney transplant offers more freedom and a better quality of life than dialysis.

Transplant surgeons at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center are experts in kidney transplantation, performing more than 250 kidney transplants per year. Surgeons are members of a multidisciplinary team that provides comprehensive care from initial testing and evaluation to long-term follow-up care after transplant surgery. Washington University transplant surgeons are also leaders in innovative techniques, cutting-edge research and multi-organ transplant.

To help patients decide what treatment may be best for them, Jason Wellen, MD, MBA, Director of Kidney and Pancreatic Transplantation at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center answers some of the most frequently asked questions about kidney transplantation.

Kidney Transplant Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a candidate for kidney transplantation?

Kidney transplantation is the treatment of choice for people with kidney failure. This allows patients to stop dialysis, decrease their fluid and diet restrictions, and enjoy a much better quality of life.

What does it mean to be on a kidney transplant waiting list?

Those who are on the list are waiting for a non-living donor kidney to become available from a transplant center. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it is difficult to predict how long a person will be on the waiting list, but, on average, waits of two years or more are not uncommon.

A patient can be on multiple lists. One of the criteria usually is that you are able to travel to the transplant center within six to 10 hours. This may increase your chance of getting a transplant, but not significantly.

Everyone on a regional list also is on a national list kept by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This means that when your nephrologist places you on their transplant center’s list, you also are placed on the national list kept by UNOS.

When a kidney becomes available in any area, information is sent to UNOS and a list is generated of individuals who potentially would be recipients for that kidney. If the kidney is a perfect match for someone on the national list, it will be offered to that person no matter where they are located.

What is a perfect match kidney?

Usually, a perfect match is from a brother or sister, but sometimes it is from the national registry. The chance of getting a perfect match from a living-related brother or sister is much higher than from the national registry.

What are antibodies and how does rejection occur?

Antibodies are proteins your immune system makes when it comes into contact with something foreign to your body. When you get an infection, such as a cold or an infection from a wound, your body makes antibodies to fight that infection. Antibodies protect your body. When you have an organ transplant, your body reacts as it would to an infection. Thus, your antibodies try to destroy the organ. Some people have a lot of antibodies, and it is harder to find an organ match.