Your kidneys, a pair of reddish-brown organs located on either side of the spine below the diaphragm, filter your blood and remove excess fluid your body. The lives of those suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD) can be saved through a kidney transplant.

More kidneys are transplanted in the U.S. every year than any other organ, and as more and more people are diagnosed with ESRD, the number of people requiring kidney transplants continues to grow. At the same time, more lives than ever are being saved through the generous “gift of life” from living kidney donors.

Memorial Hermann's first kidney transplant was performed in 1977. Since then, more than 2,600 kidney transplants have been performed at the Transplant Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (“Transplant Center”), which is ranked as one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation for kidney disorders by U.S. News & World Report.

Kidney Transplant Team

The multidisciplinary kidney transplant team at the Transplant Center is led by nationally renowned transplant surgeon J. Steve Bynon, MD, FACS, Chief of Abdominal Transplantation and Director and Professor, Division of Immunology and Organ Transplantation at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The team is comprised of transplant nephrologists, transplant surgeons, transplant nurses, transplant anesthesiologists, transplant coordinators, financial counselors, social workers and dietitians.

Through our partnership with the McGovern Medical School, the Transplant Center remains at the forefront of disease management for kidney disorders, immunosuppression research and surgical advances.

What Are the Primary Types of Dialysis for ESRD?

Dialysis is the mechanical removal of wastes and excess fluid from the body when the kidneys are not able to perform this function. There are two primary types of dialysis for patients affected by ESRD:

  • Hemodialysis - In hemodialysis, the patient is connected through an intravenous (IV) tube to an external device, called a dialyser, which filters the blood and removes excess fluid and waste. The filtered blood is then returned to the body through the IV tube. Patients undergoing hemodialysis receive treatment at a dialysis center or, in some cases, at home, typically three times per week, for several hours.
  • Peritoneal dialysis - Peritoneal dialysis uses the peritoneal membrane, which lines the abdominal cavity, to filter waste and excess fluid from the body. The process begins by placing a catheter in the abdomen, which allows the cleansing fluid (dialysate) to enter the patient and flush the waste and fluid. Once trained on the treatment process, peritoneal dialysis is typically performed by the patient at home, often at night, during sleep.

While dialysis may provide temporary relief for patients with ESRD, the survival rate and quality of life for these patients dramatically increases with transplant versus long-term dialysis.

The Organ Donation Process

Life-saving kidney transplantation is made possible through the generous “gifts of life” by donors, either living or deceased.

Living Donor Donation

Living kidney donation, meaning a living person donates one of his or her kidneys, is usually the fastest and most effective way for a person with end-stage kidney disease to receive a kidney transplant. Living donors are volunteers and are sometimes, but not always, members of the recipient's family.

The recipient and potential donor will be checked for blood-type compatibility. If the two are not a match, there is still an opportunity for donation through the Paired Donation system, which allows potential kidney recipients to “swap” kidneys with a different donor who is a blood type match.

The surgery is generally safe for both donor and recipient. Donor operations are conducted laparoscopically by two experienced surgeons working together to ensure the donor's safety. Laparoscopic surgery allows for minimal scarring and significantly reduced pain compared to conventional open surgery. Most living donors are ready to leave the hospital two days after surgery and many return to work within weeks of their procedure.

Deceased Donor Donation

Most donors registered to become donors (upon their deaths) when they signed up for or renewed their driver’s licenses. Others registered through the DonateLifeTexas.org registry. Even if a deceased person did not register but is a candidate for donation, his or her next-of-kin can provide consent for donation on his or her behalf.

Upon a donor’s death, the donor’s organs and/or tissues are recovered by an organ procurement organization (OPO). The OPO serving Northern and Southeastern Texas, including the Houston area, is LifeGift. To learn more about the organ donation process (for donation from deceased donors), please visit the LifeGift website.

What Is the Kidney Transplantation Process?

A kidney transplant may involve one or both kidneys, if the donor is deceased, and only one kidney if the donor is living. In most transplants, only one kidney is transplanted. In certain circumstances, particularly if the donor is less than ideal, two kidneys may be transplanted.

Kidney Transplant Evaluation

Once an individual decides to consider kidney transplantation (becoming a kidney recipient), an initial evaluation is made to ensure that kidney transplantation is the right option for the patient.

Once the patient has chosen the path of transplantation for treatment, the patient will receive a thorough evaluation from the kidney transplant team, which includes transplant nephrologists, transplant surgeons, transplant nurses, financial counselors, social workers and dietitians. The overall evaluation takes approximately three days and includes:

  • Diagnostic & Blood Testing, including blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans and cardiac testing.
  • Appointments to See Other Specialists, such as cardiologists, gynecologists, urologists and gastroenterologists, as necessary, to determine if it is safe to proceed with kidney transplantation.
  • Psychosocial Evaluation, to help prepare the patient and loved ones for kidney transplantation. Financial counselors are also available to help make necessary arrangements prior to transplantation.
  • Patient Education, to help the patients and their loved ones fully understand the transplant process, a crucial step in successful kidney transplantation.

Once the evaluation is complete and the results of the tests are received, the multidisciplinary transplant team will confirm that kidney transplantation is a safe procedure for the patient and, if so, will place the patient on the kidney transplant national waiting list, administered by The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Waiting times vary depending on blood type, and the average wait time at our center is the shortest in Houston and below the national average, per SRTR1.

Patients awaiting kidney transplantation on our transplant list are seen by affiliated Transplant Center physicians on an annual basis to ensure that they will be ready for transplantation when the kidney becomes available.

Kidney Transplant Procedure

Living donor transplants will be scheduled on a date chosen ahead of time and will be performed on an elective basis. For deceased donor transplants, this scheduling is not possible, as the transplant must be performed soon after the organ becomes available.

When a deceased donor kidney becomes available, the patient will be notified and will be admitted to the hospital. The patient will meet again with a nephrologist and a transplant surgeon to answer any questions, and the patient (or patient’s legal guardian) will sign a consent form authorizing the procedure.

If the patient has been on dialysis, he or she may require a session of dialysis prior to the transplant procedure. The Transplant Center provides both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, so it is unnecessary for the recipient to bring his/her peritoneal dialysis supplies. Sometimes, a final matching test (histocompatibility) must be done before the transplant can happen. If the patient and donor do not match, the patient may have to wait for another kidney.

The transplant procedure is the same whether the kidney comes from a living donor or a deceased donor. It is performed under general anesthesia and typically takes about 2-3 hours. The team of specialized transplant anesthesiologists will ensure that our patients receive the best available care while the kidney transplant is being performed. A plastic stent is usually placed inside the ureter and bladder during the procedure and will be removed by an urologist several weeks after the transplant.

Following the procedure, patients are taken directly to a dedicated Transplant Surgery Intensive Care Unit (TSICU) to recover. Most patients spend only one night in this unit before being transferred to the regular transplant surgery floor. Many patients have immediate function of the transplanted kidney and will not require any dialysis after the transplant procedure. The hospital stay following a kidney transplant is typically 3-4 days.

1 Source: Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR). Cohort: 01/01/2016 - 12/31/2016

What Are the Possible Kidney Transplantation Risks?

Kidney transplantation carries associated risks, including the risk of the body rejecting the implanted kidney(s), the risk of infection and the increased risk of cancer from the immunosuppression (anti-rejection) medication administered to reduce the risk of rejection.

It is important to know that rejection does not usually mean loss of the transplanted organ. Rather, rejection simply means that the balance of the immune system and the organ has changed and immunosuppression needs to be increased. Your doctor will discuss the risks associated with transplantation with you prior to your procedure.

Patient Stories

  • David grown up and healthy

    Derek Hackworth: Infant Thriving One Year After Kidney Transplant

    April 22, 2021

    In April 2020, Keisha Howell and David Hackworth got the call they’d been waiting for. “It was about 11 o’clock at night, and a nurse from the Transplant Center called and said, ‘We have a match for Derek.’ I packed up Derek and headed straight there,” says Keisha.

    Read More
  • Matthew Alvarez at birthday party

    Matthew Alvarez: Donor Kidney Gives Infant a Bright Future

    April 22, 2021

    Pamela Alvarez exudes gratitude. Like most parents, she and her husband, Mike, are grateful to have healthy children, but the couple are also eternally grateful for the generous kidney donor who gave their younger son, Matthew, a second chance.

    Read More
  • James and Tracy

    James and Tracy: A Good Match for Life

    May 23, 2016

    Tracy and James met at a 7-Eleven store in Bryan, Texas, and the two have been together ever since. Neither would have imagined that they would one day share a kidney. James and Tracy had been married for nearly 10 years when his physicians recommended kidney transplantation.

    Read More
  • Bernarda and Freddy Azuara

    Freddy and Bernarda: A Match Through Kidney Paired Donation

    May 23, 2016

    When Bernarda learned none of her three sons were a match for kidney donation, their search led them to the Kidney Transplant Program at the Memorial Hermann Transplant Center in Houston, where they learned that Bernarda had a high number of circulating donor-specific antibodies targeting human l...

    Read More
  • David Fuselier and Jackie

    David and Jackie: 34 Years and Counting

    May 23, 2016

    Although the early years of kidney transplantation were marked by high rates of rejection and allograft failure, a clinical trial of the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine dramatically changed the outlook for transplant recipients. The trial began in 1979, and three years later, David was among ...

    Read More
  • David and Gam Nguyen

    David and Gam: A Son Gives Life to His Mother

    May 23, 2016

    Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common causes of end-stage kidney disease. The progression of both conditions over more than 15 years of Gam’s life led to chronic kidney disease. By 2010, the 66-year-old mother of four boys was in borderline kidney failure, and her nephrol...

    Read More

Kidney Transplant Recovery

The goal of kidney transplantation is to return patients to a full, satisfying quality of life, free of dialysis and dietary restrictions. Patients typically return to school, work, non-contact sports and other activities they enjoyed prior to developing kidney disease.

Following transplant surgery, the transplant physicians and staff continue to monitor recent kidney recipients very closely. Clinic visits are scheduled weekly or twice-weekly during the early period post-transplant, and the time between visits will increase according to the patient's needs. Patients from outside the Greater Houston area should plan to stay in Houston for 2 to 4 weeks after transplant to ensure that this close follow-up is possible.

Transplant Support Group

Transplantation can sometimes seem overwhelming for patients. The Transplant Center offers a transplant support group, run by our transplant social workers. The group meets monthly and includes patients who are waiting for a transplant as well as those who have already received a transplant. Adult family members, friends and caregivers are welcome and encouraged to come with the patient.

To learn more about our transplant support group, call (713) 704-5200.

Getting Started

To find out more about kidney transplantation or to schedule an appointment with an affiliated physician at the Transplant Center, please call (713) 704-5200.

If you are a physician, you can refer a patient to the Transplant Center. If you are from a dialysis center and would like to refer a patient, please download the Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Referral Form or Liver Transplant Referral Form.

Request an Appointment or Refer a Patient

To request an appointment or refer a patient, please complete the form below.