Deceased-Donor Kidney Transplant

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If you’ve been approved for a kidney transplant but don’t have a living donor, or your potential donors aren’t suitable matches, we’ll put you on the waitlist for a deceased-donor kidney. Our kidney transplant team performs more than 150 deceased-donor adult kidney transplants a year, with excellent outcomes.

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Commonly Asked Questions

How Long Will My Transplanted Kidney Last?
Kidneys from deceased donors last an average of 10-12 years. Your new kidney lifespan will depend on the kidney used, how well you take care of it, and how faithfully you take your medication.

How Will You Find the Right Kidney for Me?
We start by registering you on the national transplant waitlist operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). It matches available organs to recipients using policies designed to give all people an equal chance to receive a needed organ. You will not be assigned a number in the waitlist line. Rather, when a kidney from a deceased donor becomes available, it is matched with potential recipients based on three key criteria:

  • Blood type: O, A, B, or AB.
  • HLA antigens: These are proteins found on cells of the kidney and your blood cells. If the kidney you receive has some of the same proteins as you, then it’s less likely your body will see the kidney as foreign and reject it.
  • Waiting time: How long the potential recipient has been on the waitlist. Waitlist time begins when a person is placed on the waitlist or when they begin dialysis, whichever comes first.

How Long Will I Need to Wait for a Kidney Transplant?
It’s impossible to say how long your wait time will be, but these are the averages, by blood type:

  • O: 5-7 years
  • A: 3-5 years
  • B: 6-7 years
  • AB: 1-7 years

Half of our kidney transplant patients receive an organ in less than 45 months. By comparison, the median wait time in the U.S. as a whole is 56 months.

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Waitlist for Kidney Transplant

Once you’ve been approved for transplant, we’ll place you on the national waitlist for a deceased-donor kidney. All U.S. candidates are listed in a national donor computer system through UNOS. HonorBridge works with UNOS to coordinate transplants in this area.

Multiple Listing for Kidney Transplant
You may be able to register for a kidney transplant at more than one center, depending on what your health insurance allows. This is important because wait times can vary from one section of a state to another, based on the number of candidates on the list in that area. You can ask your dialysis center or nephrologist to send a referral to us.

Request a Referral from Your Doctor

If you are interested in making an appointment for an evaluation, please ask your nephrologist to submit a referral.

While You’re on the Kidney Transplant Waitlist
While you wait, it’s vital that you remain ready to take advantage of any transplant offers. You must:

  • Have a cell phone with working voicemail and be reachable any time, day or night.
  • Remain ready to travel to Durham on short notice, particularly if you live far away (if you need to move to the area, your transplant coordinator can connect you with resources).
  • Keep your transplant coordinator up to date on any changes in your health status that may affect your eligibility for transplant, including hospitalizations or blood transfusions.
  • Let your transplant coordinator know if you are traveling or if there are any changes in your contact information, caregivers, or insurance.
  • Provide a blood sample monthly, to ensure we have material for matching tests if a kidney becomes available.
  • Visit our clinic yearly for an update appointment to make sure your health status remains good.

Types of Deceased-Donor Kidneys

Every kidney offered for a transplant receives a kidney donor profile index (KDPI) score that ranges from 0% to 100%. The score identifies how long a kidney is likely to function compared to other kidneys. For example, a KDPI score of 20% means the kidney is likely to function longer than 80% of other available kidneys.

We also consider organs from donors with hepatitis C. Because modern hepatitis C medications are so effective, have few side effects, and don’t interact with immune medicines that are required for transplant recipients, these organs can help save lives instead of being discarded.

Our team will offer kidneys after careful consideration of the characteristics of the donor/organ and your specific situation.

You are not required to accept offers of organs with a KDPI higher than 85% or from a donor with hepatitis C; you can decline with no penalty. However, with careful selection, these options can provide you with the kidney you need in less time.

Our Locations

Kidney transplant surgery takes place at Duke University Hospital. Pre- and post-transplant appointments take place at our nephrology clinics in Durham.

Getting a Kidney Offer and Transplant

Getting the Call
When we learn of an available kidney that may be a good match for you, a transplant coordinator will call you. They’ll ask questions about your health, insurance, and dialysis treatments (if applicable). They’ll tell you where you are on the list for that particular offer. They may also tell you not to eat or drink after a certain time, so you’ll be ready for surgery, if need be. If you miss the coordinator's call and do not respond in a timely fashion, they will move to the next recipient in line.

Tests Determine if Kidney Is a Match
Next, blood testing will be performed to make sure the kidney is a match for you. It’s possible you may come to the hospital but not receive a transplant if it turns out the kidney is poor quality or not a good match for you. If the kidney is a good match, we’ll ask you and your caregivers to come to Duke University Hospital, where our kidney transplant team will be waiting to perform the surgery that will give you a healthy, functioning kidney.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 04/04/2022