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How Kidney Transplantation Works

During a transplant, the surgeon places the new kidney inside your lower abdomen and connects the artery and vein of the new kidney to your artery and vein. Your blood flows through the donated kidney, which makes urine, just like your own kidneys did when they were healthy. The new kidney may start working right away or may take up to a few weeks to make urine. Unless your own kidneys are causing infection or high blood pressure, they are left in place.

When people think of kidney transplants, they often think of organ donation that occurs after someone dies or when an individual has been declared brain dead and the family has made the decision to donate an organ. This is known as a deceased (cadaver) donor transplant. In many cases, the family of the deceased patient has agreed to donate other organs, not just the kidneys. When the family grants permission for organ donation, the hospital contacts an organ procurement organization.

Patients who are waiting for a transplant are registered with the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS). Organ procurement organizations are part of the UNOS network. Together, they manage the process of matching and distributing the donated organs to awaiting patients, nationwide.

Matching donor organs with recipients is critical and challenging. Match criteria includes medical criteria like blood and tissue type, as well as length of time waiting, body weight, size of recipient diseased organ, and severity of illness. As a result transplant wait times can vary from a few months to several years because of matching difficulties.

According to UNOS, there are 244 kidney transplant centers in the United States. A list of transplant centers in your area can be found at If you are considering a deceased donor transplant, you may want to consider being on more than one transplant center’s waiting list.

Today nearly 100,000 people are awaiting transplants.

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