How to support someone who has had a kidney transplant

More than one in seven adults in the United States have chronic kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means 37 million people, most of them over the age of 50, are living with varying levels of chronic kidney disease.

When a kidney fails or has extremely low function, a kidney transplant is a life-saving procedure. The year 2021 was a record year for kidney transplants: 24,669 people received a donor kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Amy Waterman, PhD, a professor and director of patient engagement at Houston Methodist Hospital, says life after a kidney transplant is full of possibilities.

“If you imagine that the person is on dialysis every other day and is exhausted and is on a renal diet, then having a kidney transplant opens up a world again,” says Dr. Waterman.

The first year after a transplant is busy, says Bernard Victor Fischbach, MD, a nephrologist and director of kidney transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Immunosuppressants, among other medications, such as blood pressure or diabetes medications, help the patient accept their new kidney. After the initial hospital stay, a transplant recipient returns to the clinic twice a week, then with decreasing frequency to once a month. These visits are to monitor the immunosuppressive medication and how the kidney adjusts to its new body. Dr. Fischbach says that it is the period with the highest risk of acute rejection.