Helping Patients Cope with Feelings after a Kidney Transplant

By DaVita® social worker Deborah Evans, MA, MSW, LCSW

When patients receive their kidney transplant, it’s often at the end of a long and, for many, challenging time. Many of these patients have been dealing with years of poor health to treating kidney disease with dialysis, which is a lot for anyone to manage. Even under the best possible circumstances, the journey to getting a new kidney can be difficult and stressful. In addition, transplant recipients may have had to wait a long time for a kidney that was a match. Explore the different emotions that patients may experience after kidney transplantation surgery and how they can find ways to cope.


Dealing with mixed feelings


After receiving a new kidney, patients report feeling happiness, relief and excitement about a future that doesn’t require dialysis. However, some patients who received a kidney from a deceased donor may experience survivor guilt as they acknowledge their new chance at life resulted, in part, from the death of another person. This can put an understandable damper on the positive, hopeful feelings they are experiencing. Talking to other kidney transplant recipients may help them understand that they are not alone in having the same mixed emotions after transplant surgery.


Adjusting to a new lifestyle


The period immediately following a kidney transplant can be stressful as patients adjust to a new treatment and medication regimen. These and other factors may result in a period where patients are at higher risk for depression (which can be common among post-surgical patients). In addition, people who have struggled with addiction in the past may find this is a particularly vulnerable time and need extra support. Talking to a counselor may help patients develop healthy coping mechanisms.


Some patients may also experience post-transplant anxiety as they may worry about possible complications and potential failure of their new kidney. It is important that the patient actively participate in their health at this time to help avoid complications with their new kidney. This includes:


1. Taking prescribed medications

2. Attending scheduled appointments

3. Eating a healthy diet

4. Exercising

5. Finding ways to manage stress

6. Reengaging in meaningful activities


This can help a person begin to feel a sense of control, rather than anxiety and worry.


Finding support


A person’s dialysis health care team can help them prepare for transplant by providing pre-transplant education and support, as well as help them anticipate the possible range of emotions they may experience after a transplant. Social workers can also be particularly helpful as they teach patients cognitive-behavioral coping techniques and work with them on goal setting.


Patients should work with their loved ones and health care teams (both pre- and post-transplant) to help them navigate the physical and emotional aspects of their journey.