How to Get on a Kidney Transplant Waiting List

Hand holding kidney model on white background
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If you or your child have chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, you may be eligible for a kidney transplant. Even if you are currently on dialysis, it's best to get on a waiting list as soon as possible. That’s because people on dialysis do not do as well as people with healthy transplanted kidneys.

Don't count on your dialysis center to refer you to a transplant center. Unfortunately, in a large proportion of cases, they don’t. If you want to get off dialysis and get a new kidney, you have to be proactive.

How to Get on a Waiting List

Before you get on the national and local transplant list, you will have to undergo a rigorous medical examination and receive a referral from your healthcare professional.

Find a Transplant Center

The next step is to find a kidney transplant center by checking with the United Network for Organ Sharing’s Directory of Transplant Programs.

Before you contact a transplant center, check to see how it stacks up to other centers in terms of kidney transplant outcomes, such as patient and graft survival, and waitlist activity. The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients has national data on these issues.

Each transplant center has its own criteria that potential recipients must satisfy in order to get on the waitlist. You can get on the waiting list at multiple centers—it's called "multiple listing"—but remember you may incur additional costs for testing and evaluation. Be aware that matching kidneys first go to local residents, then regional residents, and then they are made available nationally.

Confirm Coverage

You should also check with your insurer to see what kind of coverage you have for a transplant. If you are underinsured, or not insured, talk to the transplant center to find out what will be paid for and what you will be responsible for financially. There are also government programs that pick up the costs of some post-transplant expenses, such as high-cost medications.

Seek Support

Waiting for a donor's kidney is a difficult process. However, many transplant centers have educational materials and support groups to help you through this time. Some will connect you with mentors who have been through the process.

In all likelihood, you will be able to expedite getting a healthy kidney if your spouse, a family member, or a friend is able to donate and is a good match. Studies have revealed that patients do better when they receive a live donor.

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Article Sources

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  1. National Kidney Foundation. Kidney transplant. 2019.

  2. United Network for Organ Sharing. Frequently asked questions. 2019.

  3. United Network for Organ Sharing. What every patient needs to know. 2019.

  4. Brown RS. Live donors in liver transplantation. Gastroenterology. 2008;134(6):1802-13. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2008.02.092

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