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The Kidney Transplant Waiting List

Once your UPMC transplant coordinator calls to let you know that you're on the kidney transplant waiting list, the next phase of your journey begins.

Kidney Transplant Waiting List Criteria

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) decides the criteria for organ allocation and ensures that all transplant hospitals in the U.S. meet their requirements.

Your kidney transplant team will assign you an estimated post-transplant survival (EPTS) score based on:

  • Your age.
  • How long you have been on dialysis.
  • Whether you have had a previous organ transplant.
  • Whether you have diabetes.

EPTS scores range from 0 to 100 percent. The lower your score, the higher your priority on the kidney transplant waiting list.

Kidney transplant waiting time

A mix of factors will determine which kidney transplant candidate receives which organ.

These factors include:

  • Tissue match between kidney donor and candidate.
  • Blood type.
  • Blood antibody levels.
  • Length of time on the kidney transplant waiting list.
  • Whether the potential kidney transplant recipient is a child.
  • Body size of both donor and candidate.
  • Geographic area.

Download the Questions and Answers About Kidney Allocation from UNOS (PDF).

Staying Close to UPMC While on the Kidney Transplant Waiting List

In kidney transplants, staying in Pittsburgh while on the waiting list isn't as crucial as with other organ transplants.

The transplant window for kidneys is about 12 hours, so even people living across the country are likely able to get to UPMC in time.

If you do live a great distance from UPMC, or even overseas, you may consider relocating nearer to Pittsburgh as your priority score on the kidney transplant waiting list becomes more critical.

Family House provides a budget-friendly "home away from home" for kidney transplant patients and their loved ones.

Kidney transplant support and follow-up

Maintaining your health as much as possible is vital during the waiting phase.

While you wait for a donor kidney, the UPMC kidney transplant team will:

  • Offer health advice.
  • Provide social support.
  • Answer any questions you may have.

Most people can see their primary nephrologist for follow-up care close to home. Your kidney doctor will remain in contact with the transplant team at UPMC to provide updates on your health.

Becoming Inactive on the Kidney Transplant Waiting List

Please inform your kidney transplant coordinator of any travel that will take you outside the 12-hour window for kidney transplant surgery.

If you must travel, we may place you in an "inactive status" on the kidney transplant wait list.

Other reasons we may place you on the inactive list include:

  • Needing further testing.
  • Having certain health problems that might increase the risk of kidney transplant surgery.

Inactive status will not affect the total amount of time that you have been on the active waiting list.

What Happens When a Donor Kidney Becomes Available?

When a kidney becomes available, your transplant coordinator will call you right away.

Before you arrive at the hospital, a member of UPMC's kidney transplant team will evaluate the donor organ.

If it's a match, we'll prep you for surgery as soon as you arrive to the transplant unit. If the team finds that the organ isn't right for you, we will send you home.

After Your Kidney Transplant at UPMC

After your kidney transplant, you will spend a few days in the transplant intensive care unit before moving to a patient room.

When we discharge you, you'll need to stay in Pittsburgh for a while for:

  • Follow-up care.
  • Regular check-ins with your kidney transplant team.
  • Further testing.

Once you're strong enough to go home, you will need to come back to UPMC at times for check-ups.

The kidney transplant team will remain in contact with you, even after you've returned to your daily routine. We're here for you if you have any side effects, issues, or questions after your transplant.

Living Donors for Kidney Transplant

If you would like to eliminate the wait time for a kidney transplant, you may want to consider living donation.

Kidney transplant candidates who do not have high priority EPTS scores can wait for years to receive a kidney, due to a shortage of deceased-donor organs.

If you know a living person willing to donate a kidney, the UPMC kidney transplant team will evaluate him or her as a suitable donor for you.

If this person does not happen to be a match for you, you may opt to participate in the National Kidney Registry's exchange program.

How the kidney exchange program works

In this "swap" program, your willing donor who isn't a match for you can donate his or her kidney to another person on the waiting list.

The person who receives your living donor's kidney will also have a willing donor who will then donate his or her kidney to another person participating in the exchange program.

Learn more about the kidney exchange program from the National Kidney Registry.