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    Kidney Transplantation

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    What is Kidney Failure?

    Normally, kidneys filter waste products from your blood, control the balance of salt and water in your body, help adjust blood pressure, and regulate other important functions in your body. Kidney failure (also referred to as Chronic Renal Failure or End-Stage Renal Disease) is a serious, long-term condition where the kidneys are unable to perform these important functions. With this condition, you will need to make important choices about your treatment.
    3-dimensional diagram of torso showing diseased kidneys, inferior vena cava, aorta, ureters, transplanted kidney, transplanted ureter, and bladder
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    What are the Treatment Options for Kidney Failure?

    You and your doctor will discuss the treatment options for kidney failure. A patient with kidney failure can choose among three forms of treatment for this condition: Hemodialysis, Peritoneal Dialysis, or Kidney Transplantation.

    • Hemodialysis: This treatment uses a machine to filter your blood and temporarily remove waste products, extra salt, and extra water from the body.


    • Peritoneal Dialysis: This type of dialysis uses the lining of your abdomen to remove waste products, extra water, and chemicals from your body.


    • Kidney Transplantation: During this surgical procedure, the transplant surgeon places a healthy kidney into your body. The donated kidney does the work of the two failed kidneys. There is no need for dialysis with this surgical treatment. Although most patients receive kidney transplants after starting dialysis, patients may also choose transplantation before starting dialysis. For many patients, kidney transplantation has become the preferred treatment for kidney failure.


      • Kidneys used for transplantation come from living donors or from cadaveric donors (kidneys that are donated by families of brain death victims). Living donors are frequently close relatives (living-related donor) or friends or spouses (living- unrelated donor) of the transplant candidate. Living donors can donate one of their two kidneys and lead a normal and healthy life with the remaining kidney.

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    What are the Benefits of Living Donor Transplantation?

    Living donor transplantation provides some major benefits for patients. First, the waiting time before transplantation is usually very short. Second, patient outcomes are much better than for those who have cadaver transplants. Third, the operation can be timed to meet the patients' needs, allowing them to prepare both physically and mentally for surgery.

    California Pacific’s Kidney Transplant Program offers an advanced, minimally invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopic nephrectomy for the donor. With a laparoscopic nephrectomy, the size of the incision is smaller. Also, the donor may recover faster and spend fewer days in the hospital. Typically, laparoscopic nephrectomy donors are hospitalized for three to four days, as compared to an average of five days with the open donor kidney transplant surgery. California Pacific Medical Center was the first transplant center in the San Francisco Bay Area to perform a laparoscopic nephrectomy in 1998.

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    How Do I Choose a Transplant Program?

    It is important to select both a medical center with a record of excellence and a medical team with whom you feel comfortable. The Kidney Transplant Program at California Pacific Medical Center was established in 1969 and reaches out to patients and doctors in their own communities. California Pacific Medical Center’s Outreach Clinics provide care closer to your home. Transplant outreach clinics are located in the following Northern California communities: East Bay (Berkeley), Central Valley (Clovis and Modesto), Sierra Region (Roseville), the South Bay (San Jose) and San Francisco. Pre-transplant evaluations, patient education, and post-transplant follow-up care are provided at these outreach clinics. The Kidney Transplant Team also visits Eureka, Redding, Reno, Fairfield, and Honolulu among other sites.

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    If I Decide to Have a Kidney Transplant, What Happens Next?

    If you choose to have a kidney transplant, you will meet with members of the Transplant Team for an evaluation. These members include:

    • Transplant Nephrologist: This doctor cares for you after surgery. The transplant nephrologist works with your local doctor and manages the medications you must take to prevent your body from rejecting the kidney. He/she will also see you in the transplant clinic for follow-up visits.


    • Transplant Nurse Coordinators: The nurse coordinators provide teaching, support, and assistance in coordinating your care throughout the kidney transplant process.


    • Transplant Social Worker: Social workers are available to help patients and families cope with both emotional and financial issues. Social workers assist with lodging, insurance, access to community services, and rehabilitation. Financial coordinators are also available to answer any additional questions you may have.


    • Transplant Nurse Practitioner: The nurse practitioner works closely with the transplant nephrologist to evaluate and prepare you for kidney transplant. Nurse practitioners may also evaluate any potential living donors.
    Reviewing Your Medical History & Ordering Tests
    During the evaluation, the doctor reviews your medical history and orders a series of tests. These tests include your blood and tissue type. The results of these tests help your doctor decide if you are a candidate for successful kidney transplantation. Additional tests or clinic visits may be needed for your particular medical condition.

    Making an Informed Decision about Kidney Transplant Surgery
    During the evaluation, you will learn about kidney transplant surgery, what to expect after surgery, and the risks and benefits involved in making an informed decision.

    Considering the Cost of Treatment
    Discuss the cost of treatment during your evaluation. Medicare and most insurance companies usually cover the cost of the evaluation, kidney transplantation, and follow-up care. This coverage includes the hospital charges, physician costs, charges for office visits, and the medications required to prevent your body from rejecting the new kidney. Some patients will pay a portion of the cost for treatment, medications or office visits.

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    What is the Organ Donor Network?

    The California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN) is an organization that oversees organ procurement in most of Northern California. CTDN is part of a larger nationwide system called the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

    • CTDN and UNOS match waiting recipients with available donor kidneys based upon the length of time your name has been on the waiting list.


    • You can contact these two agencies for further information at the following numbers:


      • CTDN: (888) 570-9400

      • UNOS: (804) 330-8500
    If you choose cadaveric kidney transplantation, we place your name on the California Pacific Medical Center kidney transplant waiting list and the search for a compatible cadaveric donor kidney begins.

    On the Waiting List
    Unfortunately, the number of patients on the waiting list continues to grow faster than the availability of cadaveric kidney donors. The average wait period for a cadaveric kidney is between three to five years, although it is impossible to predict the exact time period to find the right kidney for a specific patient. If a perfectly matched kidney is identified for you, your name automatically moves to the top of the list.

    Receiving the Call for Kidney Transplantation
    You must be ready to respond immediately if a suitable donor kidney is found. Moving quickly minimizes the time between the removal of a donor kidney and the transplant surgery. The Transplant team will ask you to carry a pager while waiting for an available kidney. If you are paged, call the Medical Center immediately (415) 600-6000 or (415) 600-1080. Or, the transplant nurse coordinator will call you or your contact person to notify you by phone. The transplant nurse coordinator gives you specific instructions on transportation to the hospital, when and where to arrive, and what you need to bring to the hospital. You are responsible for contacting the transplant center for any change in your contact or insurance information.

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    Having the Transplant Surgery

    • Preparing for Surgery: You will have several blood tests. Dialysis may also be necessary. The transplant doctor checks you for fever, infections or other serious conditions. These conditions may prevent you from having surgery.


    • In the Operating Room: The staff takes you to the operating room. The transplant surgeon places an intravenous (IV) line into a large vein to give you medications, obtain blood for laboratory tests, and to monitor other vital body systems.


    • Surgical Placement of the Kidney: The surgeon places the donor kidney off to one side of your lower abdomen and attaches the artery and vein of the transplanted kidney to the blood vessels in your pelvis. The surgery usually takes about 3 hours. Following surgery, you will have a urinary catheter draining urine from your bladder. The urinary catheter is usually removed after 5 days.


    • Surgical Considerations for the Living Donor Transplants: In the case of living donor transplants, the donor kidney is removed from the donor immediately prior to the transplant recipient’s surgery. In most cases, the recipient’s own kidneys are left undisturbed. The surgical procedure for living donors takes from 3-4 hours.

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    Your Medical Care After Surgery

    • Waking up in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU): After surgery, you move to the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU), a specialized unit of the hospital where registered nurses (RN’s) monitor your condition closely. Once your condition is stable, you move to a transplant nursing unit where our team of specialists will continue to provide your medical care.


    • Understanding Your Medications: You will receive an individualized medication plan and instructions on how to take your medications and monitor yourself for side-effects.


    • Your Length of Hospital Stay: You may stay in the hospital for 5-7 days.

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    Follow-up Visits at CPMC's Transplant Clinic or at Outreach Clinics

    • Making Follow-up Visits: After you leave the hospital, you will return to California Pacific Medical Center’s transplant clinic in San Francisco for your first follow-up visit. After this visit, you may choose to receive care at one of the outreach clinics closest to your home.


    • Transition of Care: The frequency of clinic visits depends on your individual needs. As you recover, your clinic visits become less frequent. The Transplant team works to assure a smooth transition of care back to your own nephrologist or primary care doctor. However, the transplant team remains on constant standby and is always available to care for you and consult with your own doctor, if needed.

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    Taking Anti-Rejection Medications

    • Immunosuppressive Medications (Anti-rejection Medications): These medications suppress the immune system of transplant recipients to prevent rejection of the new kidney. Kidney transplant recipients must take these medications for the rest of their lives. It is important that you understand how to take these medications and how to identify any possible side effects.


    • Learning How to Take Your Medications: Medical staff members will help in the education process and give you instructional material to take home and study.

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    Living with Your New Kidney

    • Returning to Your Regular Activities: You determine the pace of your recovery. Transplant patients usually return to their normal activities within 6-8 weeks after surgery.


    • With a functioning kidney, you may have less restriction on what you can eat or drink.


    • If you have diabetes, take your diabetes medication as ordered by your doctor and follow the special diet that has been recommended.


    • You may resume sexual activity after the transplant once your doctor gives you permission and when you and your partner feel ready. Many women who have not yet gone through menopause begin to ovulate again and can become pregnant after transplantation. However, the transplant team may recommend that men and women wait at least one to two years before planning a pregnancy.

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    More Ways to Learn


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    Frequently Asked Questions


    Question: What is kidney failure?
    Answer: Normally, kidneys filter waste products from your blood, control the balance of salt and water in your body, help adjust blood pressure, and regulate other important functions in your body. Kidney failure (also referred to as Chronic Renal Failure or End-Stage Renal Disease) is a serious, long-term condition where the kidneys are unable to perform these important functions. With this condition, you will need to make important choices about your treatment.

    Question: What are my treatment options?
    Answer: Treatment options for Chronic Kidney Failure or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) are: Hemodialysis, Peritoneal Dialysis, and Kidney Transplantation.

    Question: How can I learn more about my condition?
    Answer: Visit our Kidney Transplantation page.

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    Produced by the Center for Patient and Community Education in association with the staff and physicians at California Pacific Medical Center. Date: 10/03

    Illustration by: Jacques Rossouw of Anjaro Design


    Funded by: A generous donation from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur A. Ciocca Foundation.

    Note: This information is not meant to replace any information or personal medical advice which you get directly from your doctor(s). If you have any questions about this information, such as the risks or benefits of the treatment listed, please ask your doctor(s).

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