Chicago Man Undergoes Kidney Transplant While Awake

Surgeons at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago perform one of the first ‘awake kidney transplants.’ The 28-year-old patient was discharged less than 24 hours after receiving the kidney from a childhood friend.

28-year-old John Nicholas has a new kidney thanks to a miracle donation by his best friend, but that’s not the only amazing thing about his journey to health.

Nicholas is the first patient at Northwestern Medicine to undergo a kidney transplant while awake for the entire surgery. Instead of using general anesthesia, surgeons used a single-spinal anesthesia shot.

“The spinal is something that we use for other types of surgeries, including abdominal and pelvic surgery, and the most clear, probably the most clear example that comes to mind are cesarean sections, says Vicente A. Garcia Tomas, MD.

Nicholas started having kidney issues at the age of 16 and by 2022 needed a transplant. His mother planned on being his donor but was unable to after a breast cancer diagnosis. So, he reached out to his childhood friends and found a match.

On May 24, he entered the operating room and became a part of medical history.

“I had been given some sedation for my own comfort, but I was still aware of what they were doing. Especially when they called out my name and told me about certain milestones they had reached…Like ‘Oh hey, we actually connected it.’ ‘Hey, we’re sewing things up.’ And yeah, it was a pretty cool experience to kind of know that that was happening in real time and be aware of kind of the magnanimity of what they were doing, says Nicholas.”

His transplant surgeon, Satish N. Nadig, MD, PhD, says, “The most powerful thing was when the kidney was brought back to life, when the blood flow went back to it, and it immediately started making urine, and his reaction was priceless.”

The surgeons believe “awake kidney transplantation” will help many patients, especially those who have a high-risk or phobias to general anesthesia.

Nicholas was up and walking, eating solid food and ready to be discharged less than 24 hours after his transplant. “I wasn't going to be running a marathon that day, but yeah, I definitely felt good enough to, you know, walk out of the hospital.”

He says he’s forever grateful to his team at Northwestern Medicine and his childhood friends. “We've always said to each other that, you know, we're ride or die friends and, you know, that we're always kind of with each other for life. But, you know, actually having such a bonafide example where we've got each other's back, it just meant the world to me.”

Source: Northwestern Medicine

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