Patient Guide to Kidney Transplant Surgery

The promise of a fuller, more active life after kidney transplant is exciting — but getting there can seem daunting. At Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Surgery Institute, we’re here for you every step of the way.

Our transplant specialists are committed to ensuring you have the most positive experience possible. They make that happen by answering all your questions and guiding you through every aspect of the transplant process. 

Your kidney transplant team

Several professionals skilled in transplant care will play a part in your care. They help ensure your physical, mental, and emotional health before and after you receive a kidney transplant.

At AHN, your care team includes one or more:

  • Transplant nephrologists (kidney specialist)
  • Surgeons
  • Social workers
  • Financial coordinators
  • Transplant coordinators
  • Pharmacists
  • Dietitians

Before kidney transplant: What to expect

The journey to kidney transplant surgery involves several steps. The process focuses on your health and safety while finding an organ that’s right for you. Here are the steps you’ll need to go through before your surgery:

Step 1: Physician referral

Your primary care physician or nephrologist will likely refer you to our Surgery Institute if they believe you may benefit from a kidney transplant. Then you’ll have a phone interview with someone from our team. On this call, we review your health and medical history, such as medical tests you have already had.

Step 2: Kidney transplant evaluation 

Next comes your first meeting with our transplant team. In our transplant clinic, located at Allegheny General Hospital, you can meet everyone on your care team in one place.

At this appointment, we’ll thoroughly assess your health with tests such as bloodwork and a chest X-ray. We will help you coordinate any other tests you need, too. This evaluation helps us decide whether you’re a candidate for kidney transplant surgery.

Step 3: Waiting for a kidney

Our team takes the time to consider every patient’s unique circumstances. If we think kidney transplantation is right for you, you will be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national kidney transplant wait list until a donor kidney becomes available.

While wait times vary, your best chance at getting transplanted sooner is finding a living kidney donor. Organs from living donors work better and last longer than organs from deceased donors. Through our living kidney program, we can help you find a living donor that matches your health needs. Learn more about kidney donation.

Kidney transplant surgery: What to expect

As soon as we find a suitable donor kidney for you, we start preparing you for surgery. If you have a living donor, we schedule surgery after your donor has completed their evaluation process (similar to yours).

If an organ from a deceased donor becomes available, our transplant coordinator will call you to come in for surgery immediately. For this reason, it’s important you keep a cell phone or other phone near you at all times so we can reach you at a moment’s notice.

Your surgery will take place on a dedicated transplant floor at Allegheny General. That means transplant specialists will take care of you at all times.

Most kidney transplant procedures take 2 to 4 hours to complete. After kidney transplant surgery, most patients stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days. We will closely monitor your health and make sure your new kidney works effectively. 

After kidney transplant

We will closely watch your health in the days and weeks after transplant surgery — then less often for the rest of your life. We tell you what you need to know every step of the way. We also give you the tools you need to live a full, active life.

Your kidney transplant recovery

After we’re confident of your health and safety, you’ll be able to go home from the hospital. Life after kidney transplant will be very different, in many good ways — like no more dialysis and lots more energy to do the things you love. But first you’ll need to give your body the time and attention it needs to recover fully from surgery.

You may feel tired and uncomfortable in the days after surgery. Follow any instructions your physician gives you to manage pain.

You will also need to take medications every day for the rest of your life. These important medications stop your body from rejecting your new kidney. We use advanced, steroid-free, anti-rejection medications that don’t have as many negative side effects as other medications.

Our forever follow-up care

You play a big role in your follow-up care. We will give you a medication schedule and teach you how to track your vital signs (such as blood pressure, temperature, and pulse). It’s important for you to take and record these vital signs daily until your physician tells you to stop.

Your vital signs and twice-weekly blood tests help alert us to any concerns before they become a serious issue. Infection and rejection are the most common problems people have after kidney transplant.

After you’re fully recovered from surgery — and loving the possibilities of your new life — we’ll see you less often. In time, you may go back to your primary care physician or nephrologist for routine medical care. But we will continue to check in on your health for the rest of your life. Remember, we are here to help you live the fullest life possible after kidney transplant.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN kidney and pancreas transplant services.