Your kidneys, a pair of reddish-brown organs located on either side of the spine below the diaphragm, filter your blood and remove excess fluid your body. The lives of those suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD) can be saved through a kidney transplant, surgery to replace a diseased kidney with a healthy one from a living or deceased donor.
More kidneys are transplanted in the U.S. every year than any other organ, and as more and more people are diagnosed with ESRD, the number of people requiring kidney transplants continues to grow. At the same time, more lives than ever are being saved through the generous “gift of life” from living kidney donors.
Memorial Hermann's first kidney transplant was performed in 1977. Since then, more than 2,600 kidney transplants have been performed at the Transplant Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (“Transplant Center”), which is ranked as one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation for kidney disorders by U.S. News & World Report.
Kidney Transplant Team
The multidisciplinary kidney transplant team at the Transplant Center is led by nationally renowned transplant surgeon J. Steve Bynon, MD, FACS, Chief of Abdominal Transplantation and Director and Professor, Division of Immunology and Organ Transplantation at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. The team is comprised of transplant nephrologists, transplant surgeons, transplant nurses, transplant anesthesiologists, transplant coordinators, financial counselors, social workers and dietitians.
Through our partnership with the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, the Transplant Center remains at the forefront of disease management for kidney disorders, immunosuppression research and surgical advances.
Kidney Conditions That May Require Transplant
Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) (also called kidney failure) occurs when the kidneys gradually stop functioning, resulting in a dangerous buildup of fluid, electrolytes and wastes in the body. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, changes in urine volume, difficulty sleeping, mental fogginess, muscle cramps or twitches, itching, swelling of ankles and feet, chest pain, shortness of breath or hypertension.
CKD can result from diseases that affect the entire body, most notably diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure), or from diseases that affect only the kidneys. Typically, end-stage renal disease (ESRD) occurs after years of CKD and requires dialysis or a kidney transplant. CKD may also cause hypertension, and heart disease which is the major cause of death for all people with CKD. Glomerulonephritis (also known as nephritis and nephrotic syndrome) is group of diseases that cause inflammation of the tiny filters in the kidney, called glomeruli, that remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from the bloodstream and pass them into the urine. Damage to the glomeruli causes blood and protein to be lost in the urine. Symptoms may include discolored (pink or brown) urine, foamy urine, hypertension, or fluid retention in the abdomen, face, hands and feet. Glomerulonephritis occurs on its own or as part of another disease, such as lupus or diabetes, and can come on suddenly or gradually.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic (inherited) disorder in which in which numerous cysts grow in the kidneys (and potentially other organs) and can slowly replace much of the kidneys, reducing kidney function and causing kidney failure. Symptoms, which typically begin in a person’s 30s or 40s, may include high blood pressure (most common sign of PKD), back or side pain, increased abdomen size, headache, feeling of fullness in the abdomen, blood in the urine, frequent bladder or kidney infections, kidney stones or kidney failure. According to the National Kidney Foundation, PKD is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure, and about 50 percent of people with PKD will have kidney failure by age 60; 60 percent by age 70.
Defects in the urinary tract
Defects in the urinary tract, such as obstructions caused by problems like kidney stones, tumors or an enlarged prostate in men, may contribute to kidney failure.
Malformations that occur as a baby develops in its mother's womb can also affect kidney function. A narrowing in the baby’s urinary tract that prevents normal outflow of urine, causing a backflow of urine to the kidney, for example, could cause infections and damage the kidneys.
Additional causes of kidney failure may include:
- Lupus nephropathy
- Sickle cell nephropathy
- Heavy metals
- Analgesic nephropathy
- Reflux/chronic pyelonephritis
- Medullary cystic disease
- Alport’s Syndrome
- Prostatic disease
- Retroperitoneal fibrosis/tumor
- Hypertensive nephrosclerosis
- Rental artery stenosis
Dialysis is the mechanical removal of wastes and excess fluid from the body when the kidneys are not able to perform this function. There are two primary types of dialysis for patients affected by ESRD:
- Hemodialysis – In hemodialysis, the patient is connected through an intravenous (IV) tube to an external device, called a dialyser, which filters the blood and removes excess fluid and waste. The filtered blood is then returned to the body through the IV tube. Patients undergoing hemodialysis receive treatment at a dialysis center or, in some cases, at home, typically three times per week, for several hours.
- Peritoneal dialysis – Peritoneal dialysis uses the peritoneal membrane, which lines the abdominal cavity, to filter waste and excess fluid from the body. The process begins by placing a catheter in the abdomen, which allows the cleansing fluid (dialysate) to enter the patient and flush the waste and fluid. Once trained on the treatment process, peritoneal dialysis is typically performed by the patient at home, often at night, during sleep.
While dialysis may provide temporary relief for patients with ESRD, the survival rate and quality of life for these patients dramatically increases with transplant versus long-term dialysis.
The Organ Donation Process
Life-saving kidney transplantation is made possible through the generous “gifts of life” by donors, either living or deceased.
Living Donor Donation
Living kidney donation, meaning a living person donates one of his or her kidneys, is usually the fastest and most effective way for a person with end-stage kidney disease to receive a kidney transplant. Living donors are volunteers and are sometimes, but not always, members of the recipient's family.
The recipient and potential donor will be checked for blood-type compatibility. If the two are not a match, there is still an opportunity for donation through the Paired Donation system, which allows potential kidney recipients to “swap” kidneys with a different donor who is a blood type match.
The surgery is generally safe for both donor and recipient. Donor operations are conducted laparoscopically by two experienced surgeons working together to ensure the donor's safety. Laparoscopic surgery allows for minimal scarring and significantly reduced pain compared to conventional open surgery. Most living donors are ready to leave the hospital two days after surgery and many return to work within weeks of their procedure.
To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, click here.
Deceased Donor Donation
Most donors registered to become donors (upon their deaths) when they signed up for or renewed their driver’s licenses. Others registered through the DonateLifeTexas.org registry. Even if a deceased person did not register but is a candidate for donation, his or her next-of-kin can provide consent for donation on his or her behalf.
Upon a donor’s death, the donor’s organs and/or tissues are recovered by an organ procurement organization (OPO). The OPO serving Northern and Southeastern Texas, including the Houston area, is LifeGift.
To learn more about the organ donation process (for donation from deceased donors) on the LifeGift website, click here.
Kidney Transplantation Process
Click here to read about the kidney transplantation process, from the time a patient decides to consider kidney transplantation through recovery from transplantation surgery.
Transplant Support Group
Transplantation can sometimes seem overwhelming for patients. The Transplant Center offers a transplant support group, run by our transplant social workers. The group meets monthly and includes patients who are waiting for a transplant as well as those who have already received a transplant. Adult family members, friends and caregivers are welcome and encouraged to come with the patient.
To learn more about our transplant support group, call (713) 704-5200.
Thanks to their generous donors, thousands of lives have been saved through kidney transplants at the Transplant Center, including those of our patients depicted in these amazing stories.
The family investigated other transplant centers but chose Memorial Hermann. “We felt more comfortable there,” he says. “How you feel about your team makes a big difference in your result. If you’re considering donating or transplantation, choose a team that makes you feel strong, confident and at home.”Read Full Story »
Tracy and James met at a 7 Eleven store in Bryan, Texas, and the two have been together ever since. On that day in March 1990, neither would have imagined that they would one day share a kidney. Read Full Story »
Bernarda learned she had kidney problems about nine years ago, when she was 56. “It caught us all by surprise,” says her son Freddy, who lives in Austin, Texas. Read Full Story »
David was just 15 when a routine physical exam revealed an abnormally high level of protein in his urine, an early sign of kidney dysfunction. After further testing, he was diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflux, the abnormal flow of urine from the bladder to the upper urinary tract. Read Full Story »
To find out more about kidney transplantation or to schedule an appointment with an affiliated physician at the Transplant Center, please call (713) 704-5200.
If you are a physician and would like to refer a patient to the Transplant Center, click here. If you are from a dialysis center and would like to refer a patient, please download this form.