If you have a condition that may lead to kidney failure, visit the UNC Center for Transplant Care at UNC Medical Center before your disease advances. Our compassionate team of experts believes it’s best to consider your options early. That way, we can build a strong relationship, have more time to locate a potential living donor and give you the best possible care.
Our team also performs kidney-pancreas, liver-kidney , and heart-kidney procedures. Liver-kidney and heart-kidney are a series of two procedures performed on the same day.
Experts in Kidney Transplants
When you choose UNC Medical Center for a kidney transplant, you benefit from our experience, our multidisciplinary collaborative approach and our dedication to developing techniques that give you better access to a life-saving organ transplant.
Since our first transplant in 1968, we have helped nearly 2,000 kidney and/or kidney-pancreas patients. from across the country. Our success rates consistently top national averages.
Your treatment team will include transplant trained physicians from nephrology—a UNC specialty recognized in 2014 as among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Your nephrologist will work hand-in-hand with the whole transplant team to provide individualized care and support to you and your family.
Specialized Kidney Transplant Programs
You may be a candidate for a kidney transplant at UNC Medical Center if you have chronic kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). We offer specialized programs to address certain situations, including:
- Pre-emptive transplant – A kidney transplant performed before you need dialysis
- Kidney-pancreas transplants for people with Type I diabetes and advanced kidney disease
- Kidney transplants for people with ESRD who are also HIV-positive
- “Bloodless” kidney transplants – Surgery performed without a blood transfusion
- Blood type incompatible transplant – We are the only center in the area to use a desensitization technique allowing you to receive a kidney from a friend, spouse or family member with another blood type
- Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) – Your living donor gives a kidney to another recipient and that recipient’s living donor gives their kidney to you due to better blood compatibility
Finding a Donor Kidney
If you’re getting a kidney transplant, you may receive a donated kidney from someone who has died (called a deceased donor) or from a living donor.
At UNC Medical Center, you’ll have a better chance of receiving a new kidney and getting it sooner because our kidney transplant program has increased the availability of donor organs through successful donation after cardiac death (DCD) and expanded criteria donor (ECD)—kidneys from older donors or those with select medical conditions.
If you have a friend or family member who is considering donating a kidney for you, we’ll use the least-invasive procedure possible so they can enjoy a quicker recovery and have less post-operative pain and scarring. And you’re more likely to find a living donor match because we offer blood type incompatible and paired donation transplant options.
Kidney Paired Donation
If you have a spouse, friend, or family member who is interested in donating their kidney, Kidney Paired Donation will give you a better chance of getting a transplant sooner. About one third of living donors are not a good match for their intended recipient. To help our transplant patients and living donors, UNC has started a Kidney Paired Donation Program. Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) is when two or more donor/recipient pairs who are not a good match for each other (incompatible) exchange kidneys to give each recipient the best possible matched kidney. All recipient and donor pairs can be considered for the KPD Program.
Specialized Facilities and Services
You’ll find dedicated nephrology and transplant facilities and services at NC Memorial Hospital and our outreach clinics in Asheville, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Wilmington and Danville, Va., including:
- A kidney transplant orientation class, where you’ll get a general overview of the evaluation process, learn about the benefits and risks of a renal transplant, and get information on types of donors
- Intensive care units (ICUs) staffed by nurses specially trained in the care of transplant patients
- Specialized services for pediatric transplant patients and their families
Transplant assessment, evaluations and follow-up care are available in our outreach clinics, so you can get care close to home. Other services are located at NC Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill.
When you choose UNC for your transplant, you have access to extensive support services. Learn about additional services for you and your family.
Coordinated Care Every Step of the Way
Dedicated kidney transplant coordinators will serve as your expert guides from your initial evaluation through surgery and beyond. These specially trained nurses will arrange your medical tests, listen to your concerns, answer questions, act as liaison between you and the rest of your transplant team, teach you how to care for your body after a transplant and more.
To learn more, view our patient education handbook.
Kidney Transplant Evaluation
Your physician may refer you to UNC Center for Transplant Care once your kidney function is at or below 20 percent of normal. After your doctor refers to you to the UNC Transplant Center, you’ll attend kidney transplant orientation class where you’ll get to know us and learn more about kidney transplantation. You’ll undergo an evaluation that’s tailored to you and your specific condition. We’ll learn about you, your medical condition and how you and your family or other caregivers would cope with the stress of a transplant procedure.
You’ll meet with our transplant specialists —including nephrologists, surgeons, psychologists and social workers—and go through a series of routine tests, including:
- A Pap smear and mammogram for women
- A colonoscopy for individuals older than 50
- Blood tests for hepatitis, HIV and other immune sensitivities, as well as tissue typing to check that your tissue and your prospective donor’s tissue are compatible
- A PPD skin test for tuberculosis
- A chest X-ray to check your heart and lung health
- An electrocardiogram (EKG) – A test of your heart’s electric activity
- A cardiac evaluation if you have a history of diabetes or cardiac disease or are age 45 or older
- Renal ultrasound – An ultrasound that allows doctors to measure the size and appearance of your kidneys
Your assessment will be the same whether you plan to receive a kidney from a living donor or a deceased donor.
We’ll try to schedule your appointments to make the process as convenient and efficient as possible for you. Still, the evaluation process can take several months. If you’re currently on dialysis, we’ll schedule your appointments so they won’t conflict with your treatments.
Kidney Transplant Candidacy & Pre-Transplant Care
If tests show you’re a good candidate for a kidney transplant, you’ll be listed with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). You’ll be placed on the list even if you have a living donor, in case your donor is unable to donate a kidney.
While you wait for your kidney, you’ll continue to meet regularly with your transplant team, and we’ll stay in close contact with your referring doctor in order to keep you in the best health possible. If you need to begin dialysis while you wait for your new kidney, we’ll work with you to determine the best treatment option for you.
If you’re not a good candidate for transplantation, your nephrologist will help you determine the best treatment option for your condition.
Kidney Transplant Surgery
If you’re waiting for a deceased donor kidney, your transplant coordinator will contact you when one becomes available. Then preparations for your surgery will begin.
If you’re receiving a kidney from a living donor, the surgeries will be scheduled at a time convenient for you and your donor.
During the operation, your new kidney is placed on the right or left lower abdomen, just above the groin area. The blood vessels of the donor kidney are attached to your own blood supply and the ureter—the tube connecting your kidney to your bladder—is joined to your bladder. A small tube, called a stent, is inserted into the ureter to ensure urine passes easily. The stent will be removed during a simple outpatient procedure in two to three months. Your original kidneys won’t be removed unless a medical condition requires it.
Kidney transplant surgery usually lasts about four hours.
Kidney Transplant Follow-Up Care
Following your transplant surgery, you’ll spend one or two days in the Intermediate Surgical Care Unit (ISCU) then move to a special transplant unit where you’ll recover for a few more days. Many kidney transplant patients go home after 4 days. Your doctors and nurses will monitor you closely in order to identify and treat any potential problems as soon as possible. You’ll also begin taking anti-rejection medications to give your body the best chance of accepting your new kidney.
After you’re released from the hospital, you and referring physician will stay in close contact with your transplant team to track your progress and watch for complications. Your UNC Medical Center team will always be available for questions or follow-up care. You will be back to work a couple of months following your transplant.
Retired Dentist Gets Life Back After Transplant
After a series of health problems, Jeff Mazza’s kidney function was down to 5 percent by the time he was evaluated for a kidney transplant. The 68-year-old retired dentist, a resident of Carteret County, credits his UNC Medical Center nephrologist with keeping him healthy so he could receive a new kidney from his son.