Two workhorse organs, the kidneys, perform many functions. They regulate blood pressure, eliminate waste, filter blood and perform a variety of other essential functions. Like other organs in the human body, the kidneys remain susceptible to conditions and diseases that affect their performance and a person’s well-being.
Upwards of 60,000 kidney transplants are performed each year, far more than any other type of organ. When a kidney transplant is required, patients now have access to several innovations that make the procedure easier, safer and more successful for both the patient and the donor. Three particularly beneficial measures increase recipient and donor comfort, as well as transplant success.
1. Advancements in surgical technique
A new laparoscopic procedure minimizes the risks associated with nephrectomy, which is the removal of the healthy kidney from the living donor. The transplant surgery itself lasts approximately three hours for the recipient. Surgeons use a high-definition 3D viewer, laparoscopic camera and robotic probes to perform the surgery. As the surgeon moves the arms, s/he controls the pencil-sized probes that operate with steadiness and precision. This method reduces tissue damage to both the donor and the recipient. In donors, the incision size is about five centimeters, while recipients receive a three-inch incision — roughly one-third the size required during traditional open transplants. After a transplant, recipients typically stay in the hospital for three to seven days. Laser surgery allows recipients to leave the hospital in as few as two days and they can return to normal activities sooner than recipients who undergo open transplants. This technology reduces the risks and increases patient comfort both during and after the procedure.
2. Preemptive transplants
Rather than keep patients on dialysis for an indefinite period of time, preemptive kidney transplants are used to increase life expectancy. According to the National Kidney Foundation, preemptive procedures account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of all kidney transplants. These surgeries can even be performed before a patient begins dialysis. Dialysis treatments do prolong lives, but can be inconvenient and provide only a temporary fix. Kidney function and heart disease go hand in hand. A person on dialysis is likely to die from a heart of vascular condition before suffering total kidney failure. Transplanting sooner rather than later decreases the chances that recipient will develop heart disease.
3. Increase in number of living donors
While a match from any donor is a gift to patients in need of a renal transplant, a living donor is generally a better match. A living donor can be a family member, neighbor, acquaintance or stranger. The donor’s blood and tissue type must match the patient’s and the donor kidney must be healthy. Additionally, most successful transplant surgeries occur when the age gap between donor and recipient is less than 15 years. These types of transplants improve the chances of success. Typically, organs from living donors last longer than organs from recently deceased donors. Living donors increase transplant success and the number of transplants performed annually, which is good news for the thousands of patients waiting for a transplant.
Kidney transplants can increase a patient’s lifespan by 10 to 15 years or more in younger patients. Medical researchers continue to search for the most innovative means to perform this critical transplant surgery, all in the name of decreasing risk and recovery time and improving upon the rate of survival and future of organ donation.
This guest post is contributed by Lindsey Harper Mac. She can be reached at Harpermac11 (a) gmail.com or @harpermac11.