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Preparation is key to a smooth recovery

If you have kidney disease or kidney failure, you may be facing the tough decision of going on dialysis or getting a kidney transplant.

Both procedures have pros and cons, but in most cases, a kidney transplant is the best option.

“Dialysis removes toxins from the body like the kidneys would,” said Geisinger nephrologist Maria Camila Bermudez, MD. “But, you need to get dialysis periodically to stay healthy. Kidney transplants can last the rest of your life if you take care of them. Many people feel that kidney transplants give them more freedom and improved quality of life.” 

Kidney transplants are life-saving procedures, but there is a shortage of donors. Every day, 12 people die waiting for a kidney. Fewer than 20 percent of people who need kidneys receive a transplant every year. 

Why transplants are important

Your kidneys filter toxins out of your blood and help regulate the amount of water in your body. Your kidneys are one of the most important organs in the body. 

Toxic chemicals like mercury and conditions like diabetes can damage your kidneys. This damage causes loss of kidney function and eventually leads to kidney failure.

“If you have kidney failure, you need to get a transplant or dialysis,” said Dr. Bermudez. “Without one of these procedures, toxins will build up in the body, eventually causing death. Unfortunately, you can’t stay on dialysis forever—it only does 10 percent of the work of a functioning kidney. At some point you’ll need a transplant.”

If you’re getting a kidney transplant, here are some things you should know.  

Before the transplant
Once your doctor has diagnosed you with kidney disease or kidney failure, they will either recommend that you go on dialysis or get a transplant based on your kidney function. When deciding which is right for you, your doctor will take into account whether you are healthy enough for a transplant procedure.

If you and your doctor decide a transplant is the best option, you’ll need to find a kidney donor. 

The first step is to find a kidney match. Because of your individual blood type and antibodies, you can only accept kidney donations from certain people. Your doctor will test other people like friends and family to help find a kidney that is a match for you.

Because people can live with only one kidney, your kidney may either come from a living donor or a cadaver.  

Preparing for surgery
The best way to prepare for a kidney transplant is to make healthy habit changes. 

Start exercising regularly if you aren’t already. Start eating a healthy diet—this will help both before and after your procedure.

“If you’re going in for a kidney transplant, it’s important to quit smoking,” said Dr. Bermudez. “Smoking can increase your risk of complications. It can also cause your wounds to heal more slowly. Try to quit smoking at least four weeks before surgery.”

It’s important to have a plan for what happens after your surgery. You won’t be able to drive, bend over or lift anything after the surgery. Talk to friends and family members who can drive you and help you around the house. 

Bring warm clothes, a small pillow, books and music to keep you comfortable during your hospital stay. 

Finally, write up a list of questions for your doctor. If you bring the list with you when you go to see your doctor, there’s less of a chance you’ll forget to ask something. 

After the surgery
After the surgery, you’ll have to stay at the hospital until the doctors release you. Normally, you’ll spend between five and 10 days in the hospital. 

Your doctors will give you medicine to prevent your body from rejecting the new kidney. Take these medications as directed to avoid complications.

It’s important to take good care of your new kidney to avoid future kidney failure and complications.

Following your transplant, you should agree on an appropriate exercise routine and diet with your doctor. Working out may help make recovery easier and faster. Eating a healthy diet can help you feel good during recovery. These habits can help ensure that your new kidney lasts as long as possible.  

Maria Camila Bermudez, MD, is associate program director of Nephrology fellowship at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. For more information, click here.
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