Six Myths and Facts About Kidney Transplantation

By Debbe Geiger
Updated February 13, 2020
A provider holds up a model of a kidney

If you have kidney failure, a kidney transplant can help you feel better and live longer. Unfortunately, many myths persist about kidney transplant, including when you should get it, how much a kidney transplant costs, and who is eligible. Here, Matthew Ellis, MD, a kidney transplant specialist at Duke University Hospital, addresses the most common myths and explains how a kidney transplant may help improve your quality of life.

Myth: Kidney transplantation is a last resort.
Fact: It should be your first option.

“The time to think about transplant is as early as possible,” Dr. Ellis said. In fact, when someone is faced with advanced kidney disease, the first question they should ask themselves should be, ‘do I really want to replace my kidney function with dialysis or do I want to have a transplant?’ According to Dr. Ellis, you don’t need to be on dialysis first. In fact, a preemptive transplant – one given before dialysis -- can allow you to avoid dialysis altogether. This, more often than not, means that you will live longer after your kidney transplant.

Myth: You can’t have a kidney transplant if you’ve been on dialysis for a long time.
Fact: No matter how long you’ve been on dialysis, you can still benefit from a transplant.

Dr. Ellis said it’s true that the earlier you get a transplant, the better your quality and quantity of life will be. However, being on dialysis for a long time is not, by itself, a disqualifier for a kidney transplant. No matter how long you’ve been on dialysis, you can still reap the benefits that a kidney transplant can provide. Also, if you get on the waiting list after you start dialysis, you will get credit for your dialysis time, which pushes you closer to the top of the waitlist.

Myth: You have to wait a long time for a kidney transplant.
Fact: Living donation and other options make it possible to get a kidney faster.

You can control when you get a kidney transplant by working with a living donor. If you’re uncomfortable having that conversation, counselors can help you with that process. If you have a compatible donor, kidney transplant surgery can be scheduled when you and your donor are ready.

In addition, kidneys that were once discarded because they were exposed to infection such as HIV or hepatitis C are now being used in transplants. And people with these infections – who may not be considered a candidate for transplant elsewhere -- as well as people without infections are now on the receiving end at centers like Duke. These kidneys have significantly shortened the wait time for quality kidneys that will work for a long time, and result in positive outcomes for recipients.

Myth: I can’t afford the tests, surgery, and anti-rejection medicines.
Fact: Financial counselors have resources to make a kidney transplant more affordable.

If you are a candidate for a kidney transplant at Duke, you’ll meet with a financial counselor, social workers, and coordinators who will walk you through the whole process. They help you understand your options, including various resources that will help make the tests, surgery, and lifelong medications more affordable. “Our team helps you navigate through the available options so you have the resources you need to pursue a kidney transplant,” said Dr. Ellis.

Myth: I’ve been told I’m not a candidate for a kidney transplant.
Fact: If you’ve been told ‘no’ elsewhere, find a center that regularly does more complex transplants.

Different transplant centers have different criteria for evaluating people for transplant. It’s possible that one center may say ‘no’ while another may say ‘yes’. If you have been told ‘no’, or you believe you aren’t a candidate because of your age or medical status, get an evaluation at a transplant center like Duke that does more complex transplants on a regular basis.  We’ll explain what you can expect from a kidney transplant in your personal circumstance.

Myth: I’ll stick with dialysis. I’m afraid of kidney transplant surgery.
Fact: Your quality of life will be better with a transplant.

Surgery is not without risks, and it can present a financial challenge, but it’s important to thoughtfully weigh the risks and benefits when deciding how you want to live your life. Many studies show a kidney transplant has multiple benefits over dialysis, including improving the quality and quantity of your life. If you want to hear what it is really like to go through the transplant process, we can connect you with people who can share their experience so you have a better idea of what to expect.