Kidney Transplant: What to Expect
Once you are approved for a kidney transplant, you will be added to a waiting list for your donor kidney. At Sentara, we understand that waiting can be very difficult. Your individual transplant coordinator will offer support and information during your waiting period. In addition, these suggestions can help keep you healthy and prepare you for your kidney transplant.
- Stay healthy: Get regular exercise, follow your nephrologist’s directions about dietary restrictions, stay hydrated and continue taking all of your prescribed medications. If you smoke, stop. Smoking interrupts blood flow to bodily organs, including your kidneys, and can worsen your kidney disease. Smoking may also lead your body to reject your transplanted kidney after surgery.
- Continue dialysis: If you are already getting dialysis treatment, you will continue to do so until the time of your surgery.
- Attend appointments: To maintain your place on the kidney transplant waiting list, be sure to attend all required medical appointments and complete your pre-transplant health testing.
- Search for a living donor: Even if you do not find a donor immediately, keep trying. Post information on your social media accounts, send emails or postcards to friends and family about your need for a donor kidney. Learn more about living donor kidney transplant.
- Check in with your Sentara transplant coordinator: Your personal coordinator can answer any questions you have about your impending transplant and update you about your position on the waiting list. If you have any changes in your health, such as a hospitalization, blood transfusion, weight gain or loss, change of insurance or if you have moved or changed your phone number, you should alert your transplant coordinator immediately.
- Consider multiple waiting lists: Sentara allows patients to put themselves on transplant waiting lists at other hospitals in addition to ours. Being on several waiting lists can sometimes decrease the amount of time you wait for a donor kidney.
Keep in mind, though, that you will need to complete pre-transplant evaluations for each transplant center. Check with your insurance to see if they cover the cost for multiple evaluations.
When Your Transplant Surgery is Close
You may not have much time to prepare for your hospitalization. As soon as a donor kidney becomes available, you will need to be ready for surgery immediately. A few things to do in advance:
- Remain easy to reach: The transplant team needs to be able to contact you at all times. Keep your cell phone fully charged and check all voicemail messages immediately. Let your transplant coordinator know if you are traveling.
- Pack a hospital bag: Include any special items you would like to take with you, such as your favorite slippers or pillow, photos of loved ones and reading materials or electronics. Leave valuables at home or with your family or friends.
- Prep your home and pets: Your loved ones may wish to spend as much time with you at the hospital as possible. Consider asking neighbors or friends in advance to pick up your mail, water plants, feed pets or help with childcare.
- Notify your employer or employees: If you are still working or own a business, prepare a detailed plan for your departure. You may need to leave work without much notice and will probably be unable to work for at least 6 weeks after your transplant surgery. You may want to consider a medical leave of absence or reduced schedule while you recover.
- Try to relax: You may be anxious—and a bit excited, too—before your surgery. That is perfectly understandable! However, do everything you can to minimize your stress. That could include practicing a favorite hobby, learning relaxation exercises, listening to soothing music or spending time with family and friends.
Kidney Transplant Surgery & Recovery
If your kidney donor is someone you know, we will schedule you for simultaneous surgeries at a time that works well for both of you. You will know in advance when your procedure will take place.
If you are on a waiting list for a donor kidney, you will remain in close touch with your Sentara transplant coordinator. When a compatible kidney becomes available, you will need to respond quickly and be immediately available for surgery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
You can expect to:
- Be in surgery 3-4 hours: You will be under general anesthesia, meaning you will be asleep for the surgery. Learn more about adult kidney transplant surgery.
- Remain in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for several days: We need to watch you carefully after your transplant to be sure your body accepts the new kidney. Organ rejection is a possible complication of any transplant surgery.
- Receive detailed home-care instructions: We will give you and your loved ones information instructions about medications you need after your kidney transplant, dietary restrictions, activity guidelines and more. Learn more about recovering from kidney transplant surgery.
- Recuperate for 6-8 weeks: You may be able to return to work, depending on how physically active your job requires you to be. You may wish to work a reduced schedule at first.
- Continue checking in with your care team: For the first month or two, you may have several appointments per week at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. That means you may need to make arrangements to stay in town for a few weeks, if you live outside of Norfolk. Later, you will have appointments less frequently. Some of them may be at a Sentara location closer to you.
Paying for Kidney Transplant Surgery
Most private health insurance companies cover some or all of the costs of a kidney transplant for patients who have end-stage renal disease. Additional sources:
- Medicare: Most patients preparing for a kidney transplant are eligible to apply for Medicare. Medicare covers approximately 80% of the cost of kidney transplant surgery.
- Prescription drug coverage: You will take expensive, anti-organ-rejection medications after your transplant surgery. Your private insurance may cover the cost of your prescriptions. Otherwise, you may be able to apply for prescription coverage under Medicare Part B. Medicare typically covers post-transplant-related medications for three years after your surgery.
- Your costs: Before you undergo surgery, you will meet with a financial coordinator at the Sentara Transplant Center. Our experienced staff can help you evaluate how much—if any—you may pay out of pocket for your surgery and post-transplant medications.