Kidney Transplant Surgery
Even before you decide whether a kidney transplant is the right choice for you, you may want to know exactly what happens during surgery. Our transplant specialists are here to answer your questions and support you through the kidney transplant process.
At Sentara, our board-certified and fellowship-trained surgeons and related medical team members will care for you before, during and after your kidney transplant surgery. Our surgeons perform 60-70 kidney transplants each year, which means we are one of the most active transplant programs in the state.
Kidney Transplant Surgery: Experience and Expertise at Sentara
Our team has been performing transplants since 1972. Because of this extensive experience, our patients have better outcomes, recovering easier and feeling better faster. We are also the only center in southeastern Virginia with experience performing multi-organ transplant procedures, such as kidney-pancreas transplants.
Our transplant success rates are noteworthy: The national Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients has ranked the Sentara Transplant Center as one of the top hospitals in the state of Virginia for adult kidney transplant survival rates. This means many patients live full lives after their transplants at Sentara.
Before Kidney Transplant Surgery
Once a kidney becomes available—either from a donor you know or elsewhere—our transplant team has about 48 hours before we must implant the kidney into your body.
- The donor kidney: If your new kidney is coming from another location, it is safely preserved in cool, saline (salt water) until surgery and transported to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
- Your preparation: You will need to make immediate arrangements to travel to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Once here, our team will prep you for surgery. You may need to undergo dialysis before your transplant procedure.
Kidney Transplant Surgery: What You Need to Know
“Will I feel anything during surgery?” is a question many patients ask. The answer is no: You will be under general anesthesia, which means you will be completely “asleep” during your 3-4 hour kidney transplant operation. Some other details about kidney transplant surgery include:
- Minimally invasive approach: The surgeon makes a 4-inch incision in your lower abdomen, just above your groin, to insert your new kidney.
- “What happens to my original kidneys?” We leave them in place in your lower back. We do not remove them unless they are causing you severe medical problems like ongoing kidney infections or uncontrollable high blood pressure.
- Making connections: Your surgeon will “re-plumb” your new kidney to the rest of your body. This is done by surgically connecting blood vessels in your pelvis to the new kidney’s artery (which moves blood into the kidney) and vein (which removes filtered blood out of the organ). Your surgeon will also connect your new kidney’s ureter to your bladder. Your ureter is the tube that transports urine from your kidney to your bladder.
After Kidney Transplant Surgery: Recovery and Follow-up Care
After surgery, we will inform your loved ones of your progress throughout your surgery, and bring them in to visit you as soon as possible. You will stay in the recovery room for several hours under the close supervision of our transplant team’s medical staff. You will then move to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), where you will remain for several days. Learn more about recovering from kidney transplant surgery.
- In the ICU: For 3-4 days, our medical team will watch carefully to ensure that your body does not try to reject your new kidney. Rejection is a possible complication of kidney transplant surgery.
- If you received a kidney from a deceased donor: The transplanted organ may be “sleepy,” or slow to begin working correctly. If this is the case, you may temporarily need to undergo dialysis. Most “sleepy” kidneys start functioning within about 4 weeks.
- Potential complications: In rare cases, bleeding, clotting or obstruction of the kidney can cause it to fail. However, most of our recipients leave the hospital with a functioning new kidney. Our careful pre-transplant testing and planning minimize the chance of transplanted kidney failure.
- If your kidney fails: You may be eligible for a second transplant. We know this can be very discouraging. However, it would not be your fault if your new kidney failed. It is always a possibility.
- Transitioning out of the hospital: Our supportive medical team will begin educating you about the immunosuppressant medications you will begin taking. These medications make it less likely that your body will reject your new kidney. You will take immunosuppressants for the rest of your life.