A deceased donor kidney transplant is a surgery to give you a healthy kidney from someone who has just died. To get a kidney from a deceased donor, you must first have an evaluation with the transplant team. If your transplant team thinks you are ready for a kidney transplant, you will be placed on the national waiting list for a deceased donor kidney. Even if you are on the waiting list for a deceased donor kidney, you may look for a living kidney donor.

Where does the kidney come from?

Most people who have kidney transplants get their new kidneys from deceased donors. A deceased donor is someone who has just died. The person may have died in an accident or could have been recently removed from life support in a hospital. No matter how the person died, his or her kidney will only be given to you if it is healthy and likely to work in your body.

How can I get on the waiting list?

Ask your doctor if a kidney transplant might be an option for you. If your doctor thinks you are a candidate for transplant, he or she will refer you to a transplant center in your area. At the transplant center, you will go through an evaluation process to find out if having a kidney transplant is a safe treatment for you. It may take weeks or even months for you to have all of the necessary tests and exams during the evaluation process. You will have to visit the transplant center many times for these appointments. If the transplant team thinks that you are ready for a kidney transplant, but you do not have a family member or other person who could be a living donor, you will be added to the waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor.

How long will I wait for my new kidney?

Most people wait for three to five years for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor. You might wait for more time or less time. Your wait time might depend on where you live, the availability of a matching kidney in your area, how long you have been on dialysis, your age and more. Ask your doctor for more information about the things that can affect your wait time.

How will I find out if a kidney is available for me?

If a kidney becomes available from a deceased donor, you will get a phone call from the transplant center asking you to come to the hospital right away. It is therefore very important that you are always reachable by phone. If you intend to travel, tell your transplant team about your travel plans.

When you arrive at the hospital, you will have blood tests to make sure that the kidney is a good match for you. Sometimes people get to the hospital and, after having these tests, have to return home because the donor kidney is not a good match. The transplant could also be canceled if the doctors discover something wrong with the donor kidney. If you are called to the transplant center and then cannot have a transplant, try not to be discouraged. You might get another call soon!

How long will my new kidney last?

Kidneys that come from a deceased donor last an average of 15 years. Your transplanted kidney might work for less time or more time. How long your kidney will last depends on many factors, but the most important is how well you take care of it. To help your new kidney last as long as possible, you must take your medicine every day, as many times a day as your doctor tells you, and at the times your doctor tells you. Skipping your medicine can cause your new kidney to fail.

Expanded criteria donation

Expanded criteria donors (ECD) are deceased kidney donors who are age 60 or older, or who are between the ages of 50 and 59 and meet two of the following criteria:

  • Had high blood pressure
  • Had less than normal kidney function, based on a creatinine test
  • Died because of having a stroke

Kidneys from expanded criteria donors may not last as long as kidneys from standard criteria donors (SCD). However, ECD kidneys may be available sooner than SCD kidneys, and can still extend your life and improve your quality of life.

If one ECD kidney is not working well enough to keep you alive by itself, you may be able to get two ECD kidneys transplanted. These two kidneys with less than normal function can work together to function as well as one healthy kidney. This type of kidney transplant is called a dual kidney transplant.

Talk to your transplant center to find out if an ECD kidney or dual kidney transplant is an option for you.