Organ transplants, including kidney transplants, are becoming increasingly common. In the United States alone, almost 40,000 lives were saved in 2020 because of a transplant. One of the most commonly transplanted organs is the kidney.
Organ transplant surgeries are complex, major procedures. As with all surgeries, a potential complication to a transplant is infection during the procedure or after the surgery, while the wound is healing. In addition, people who have had transplants must take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their life. These medications affect their immune system, which also increases their risk of infection. Any time someone develops an infection, they could develop sepsis.
Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, fatigue, organ dysfunction, and/or amputations.
One of the most common causes of acute kidney injury is sepsis. Sepsis survivors who have kidney damage may need dialysis, a procedure that allows an external machine to cleanse the blood of toxins in place of the kidneys. Dialysis is often just temporary as the kidneys heal and start filtering blood again, but for some, the kidneys never recover sufficiently and dialysis must continue. However, dialysis is not a cure and continually undergoing the procedure can be physically and psychologically stressful.
Kidney dialysis takes several hours and must be done at least three times a week, sometimes more. Risks related to hemodialysis include infections at the catheter site (where the blood is removed and returned into the vein), blood clots, low blood pressure, fatigue, and more. Dialysis is often a life saver, but over the long term, it can significantly affect quality of life. When this occurs, a kidney transplant may be needed.
Successful kidney transplants allow for a return to a “normal” life. Kidneys for transplantation can come from live donors or from people who have agreed to donate their organs after death.
Life after kidney transplant
The most common type of organ transplantation overall (not related to sepsis only) is of the kidney, but liver transplants are increasingly common, as are transplants of the pancreas, heart, lung, and even intestines. People who have had organ transplants often go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives, but they must always remain vigilant about their health. Because of the anti-rejection medications they must take, they must watch for signs of infection regardless of the type of transplant they received.
The signs and symptoms of an infection would depend on the type of infection present. For example, a urinary tract infection (UTI) could cause burning on urination, foul smelling urine, and the need to urinate frequently; pneumonia could cause fever, cough, and weakness; and an infected skin wound could cause redness and warmth around the wound, discharge from the wound, increased pain and fever. If you have had a transplant and suspect you have an infection, contact your doctor right away so it can be treated as quickly as possible.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.
Updated April 19, 2021.