A kidney transplant is a big step.
But people with kidney disease who’ve had a transplant say this: Life is so much better.
“A successful kidney transplant has a very positive impact on a patient’s health,” said Dr. Muhammad Saeed, a transplant surgeon at Augusta University Health.
Once someone gets a new kidney, there’s no more sitting for hours and hours every week for dialysis. No worries about going on vacation or a work trip and having to make sure a dialysis center at that location will accept you or that you don’t forget your supplies for at-home dialysis. No more heavy restrictions on what you eat or how much you drink. No more sitting and wondering: How much longer do I need to wait for a transplant?
“With a successful transplant, all those things go away,” said Saeed.
Life After Dialysis
Consider this: “From the medical aspect, it’s proven in numerous studies that compared to a person on dialysis who stays on dialysis, for a person getting a transplant, the longevity is better,” said Saeed.
People also just feel better. “Ask any dialysis patient,” said Saeed. “The day when they get dialysis, after that, they feel very lethargic, some say they experience cramps because of the fluid shifts that happen during dialysis. They say they feel drained, and it’s very difficult for them to do anything productive.”
However, after a kidney transplant?
“Their energy is better, their blood numbers are better. With a functioning kidney, that helps production of red blood cells,” said Saeed. “I’ve seen so many patients who have had kidney transplants who are happy, are much more engaged with family and grandkids, and whose overall quality of life is much better.”
Life With Food
Anyone with kidney disease has to be very careful about what they eat. For example, it is important that people with kidney disease limit foods that have a lot of potassium, phosphorus, salt, fat and sometimes even protein, because high levels of these can make kidneys work harder.
In other words, no bananas or beans, less red meat, less butter, fewer condiments like soy sauce or ketchup, and no whole-grain bread or nuts. And the list goes on and on.
Doctors may also sometimes tell patients they need to limit what they drink or limit foods like soup that contain a lot of water, so that kidneys don’t have to work more to get rid of extra fluid from the body.
After a transplant, mealtimes have room to be fun again. Patients can eat anything—as long as it’s healthy, said Saeed: “It’s not the case that after a transplant, you can eat anything you want.”
Patients still need to remember that whatever caused their kidney problems in the first place—whether it was high blood pressure, diabetes or another reason—is probably still there. “So it’s important to take care of yourself and pay attention to your diet and blood glucose levels. Because if you don’t control these problems, it can affect your kidney again in the same way,” he said.
Life With Everything Else
People with a new kidney do need to worry about one new thing: their immune systems.
Anyone who has had a transplant will need to be on immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their lives, to help ensure that their body doesn’t reject the new organ. But suppressing your immune system makes it much more easy for that person to get sick.
So anyone with a transplant should be careful about avoiding crowded spaces and limiting contact with people who are sick, including immediate family members. They should wash hands often, and always get any needed vaccinations, including the flu vaccine. “Use common sense,” said Saeed, “and if you have any signs that you are sick, don’t underplay it. Contact your transplant center, even if it’s just that you’ve had a runny nose for a couple of days.”
That’s because in an immunocompromised person, a sickness can get much worse very quickly
But other than that, life can pretty much go back to normal, before you were sick. You can work out, play sports within reason, travel, work and dine out — pretty much without restrictions.
Life Goes On
Anyone with kidney disease should ask about getting a transplant, said Saeed. Despite popular belief, it’s important to know that you can get a transplant even if you have HIV or if you don’t have a family member available to donate to you. The way the transplant list works has also changed to take into account how long you have been on dialysis, said Saeed: “So if a person started dialysis in 2005 and he or she is OK to transplant, we would add the patient to the waiting list and he or she would receive all of their time on dialysis toward transplant waiting time. Essentially, this would put him or her at the top of the list.”
The dedicated Augusta University Health Kidney and Pancreas Transplant team know the special needs patients requiring a kidney or kidney/pancreas transplant require. That’s why we offer a multi-disciplinary approach to kidney/pancreas transplants to include a team of surgeons, specialists, dietitians and coordinators. Learn more about our team and transplant center, plus how you can get referred, at augustahealth.org/kidney-and-pancreas-transplant.