When a Kidney Transplant Is Needed

People are born with two kidneys, one on each side of the spine. Kidneys are responsible for filtering blood and removing excess fluid and waste products from the body, which then leave the body as urine.

When kidney function is impaired, as in acute kidney injury or Chronic Kidney Disease, the kidney can no longer perform these activities. This puts a person at risk for medical complications that can including life-threatening electrolyte imbalances, uncontrolled hypertension, anemia, and bone loss. Kidney disease may progress to the point where either Dialysis or kidney transplant is needed.

Forms of Kidney Transplant

There are two types of kidney donation: from a living donor which is a person who is willing to donate one of his or her kidneys, and from a deceased person whose family has consented to donate the person’s organs. Deceased donors are the most common source of kidneys for transplant. In either situation, the organ is removed from the donor and placed into the recipient by the transplant surgeon. After surgery you will be followed closely with a team that includes transplant surgeon and transplant nephrologist.

What is a preemptive transplant?

If you have kidney disease, getting a transplant before you need to start dialysis is called a preemptive transplant. Getting a transplant not long after kidneys fail (but with some time on dialysis) is referred to as an early transplant. Both have benefits.  People who get a preemptive or early transplant receive their kidney when their health is generally good, which allows you to stay healthier and live longer.

How do I start the process of getting a kidney transplant?

Ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a transplant center for an evaluation, or contact a transplant center. Any kidney patient can ask for an evaluation. Use the following link:


  1. Select “Transplant Centers by Organ” under Member Type
  2. Select “Kidney” for Organ Type
  3. Select your state or region

What is the transplant waitlist?

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the list of all the people across the US waiting for an organ transplant. UNOS ensures that deceased donor organs are distributed fairly using a transparent system. For kidneys, this is a combination of blood-type and antibody matching, time with kidney failure, and a few other factors that give people priority on the list (including being a child or being a past live kidney donor).

How do I get on the transplant waitlist?

  • Ask your healthcare professional for a referral to a local transplant center or contact a transplant center in your area. Learn as much as possible about the different transplant centers.
  • Choose a transplant center that best fit your needs. Things you should consider when choosing one include:
    •  Insurance coverage and cost
    •  Location for ease of going to and from the transplant center
    •  If you have a living donor, be sure the transplant center performs living   donations and if your live donor isn’t a good match, that the transplant center participates in a ‘kidney paired exchange program.
    •  Support group availability
  • Schedule an appointment for evaluation. An evaluation will help determine if you are a candidate for a kidney transplant. Each center has their own criteria for accepting patients for transplant.

What is the average wait time for a kidney transplant?

Once you are added to the national organ transplant waiting list, you may receive an organ fairly quickly or you may wait many years. In general, the average time frame for waiting can be 3-5 years at most centers and even longer in some geographical regions of the country.  You should ask your transplant center to get a better understanding of the wait times.

Some factors that determine how long you wait include:

  • How well you match with the available kidney
  • Your blood group and if you are sensitized with high antibody levels (from prior failed transplants, blood transfusions, and/or pregnancies)
  • How many donors are available in your local area