700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

What to Expect if Your Child Needs a Kidney Transplant

Mar 11, 2020
Patient laying in hospital bed with medical professional at bedside

A common misperception is that only adults undergo kidney transplants. The truth is that, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), 760 children across America received kidney transplants during 2019.

When Is a Kidney Transplant Recommended for Children?

Kidney transplants are recommended for children who have severe kidney failure and would die without dialysis or a transplant. A few of these kidney problems are:

  • Birth defects in the kidneys
  • Inherited kidney disease
  • Kidney diseases that cause the filters to become inflamed and/or leaky

How Do Children Get on a Waiting List for a Kidney?

Before a child can be placed on the transplant waiting list, they undergo an extensive evaluation to make sure they are ready to undergo the procedure. The evaluation also helps to ensure that the donor organ will be a good match. The evaluation includes:

  • Transplant education
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Psychosocial evaluation
  • Nutritional status
  • Infection risk

How Long Does It Take to Get a New Kidney?

If there is a healthy living donor available, it might take a few months once the process is started to ensure both the child and the donor are ready and a good match. A living donor does not have to be a family member. If no living donor is available, it may take months or years on the waiting list before a suitable donor organ is available which depends on a number of factors. During this time, the child will receive close follow-up and support from his or her healthcare providers and the transplant team.

How Long Is Kidney Transplant Surgery and What Happens After?

Families on the waiting list are always prepared for the day they will receive the call letting them know that a kidney is available. The family will come to the hospital immediately and the child will have some more blood work and tests to confirm the organ is a match. The transplant surgery will then take several hours.

After the surgery, the child will go to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be watched closely. The length of time spent in the ICU will vary based on the child's unique condition. After the child is stable, he or she will be sent to the special unit in the hospital that cares for kidney transplant patients. Over the next several days while the child recovers, the family is educated on all aspects of care including medicines, activity, follow-up, diet, and any other specific instructions from the transplant team.

The journey can be a long and difficult one, but there is hope and inspiration in kids like Max. Just look at the smile on Marvelous Maxwell’s face and hear the tearful, yet joyful, words of his parents: www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2Nx4fXTGbE.

For more information about kidney disease or organ donation, visit The National Kidney Foundation or click here to learn more about nephrology services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Featured Expert

Hiren Patel
Hiren Patel, MD

Hiren Patel, MD, is chief of the Section of Nephrology and medical director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He is also a clinical associate professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.