Northwestern Medicine performs first awake kidney transplant

Imagine undergoing a life-saving kidney transplant and being awake the entire time. That was the experience for a patient at Northwestern Medicine, marking the hospital's first time performing this type of surgery.

The procedure, called an awake kidney transplant, allowed the patient to be discharged the next day. The patient, 28-year-old John Nicholas, received a single spinal anesthesia shot, similar to what is used during a C-section, instead of general anesthesia. Despite being awake, Nicholas felt no pain and was able to talk and answer questions during the surgery.

"I had been given a lot of sedation for my own comfort. But, you know, I was still able to be somewhat aware of what they were doing, especially when they called out my name and told me about certain milestones they had reached," Nicholas said.

The advantage of keeping the patient awake is a faster recovery. Doctors say the awake kidney transplant can benefit patients who have risks or phobias associated with general anesthesia and can shorten hospital stays, which is why Nicholas was able to go home 24 hours after surgery.

"Less is more, and in this scenario, the patient gets a kidney transplant but is using their own physiology and their own biology to breathe and talk and interact the entire time, which allows them for, again, a more rapid recovery," said Dr. Satish Nadig, Northwestern transplant surgeon.

The surgery took less than two hours. Doctors showed Nicholas his new kidney before placing it inside his body and informed him it was already working once connected. Before the transplant, Nicholas had to limit his salt intake. He is now looking forward to enjoying pizza and having more energy to ride his bike.