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Northwestern Medicine performs its 1st awake kidney transplant procedure in under 2 hours

Chicago (WLS) — The first patient at Northwestern Medicine to have a kidney transplant while conscious was a man from Chicago.

John Nicholas, 28, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and has been dealing with kidney problems for more than ten years. Although tests revealed that his kidneys were inflamed, the cause of the problem was never identified.
Nicholas took medication to manage his illness instead of going through dialysis. He discovered that his kidney was failing after moving to Chicago in 2022 and that a kidney transplant was required.

Nicholas, though, had some difficulties locating a kidney donor. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, his mother, who had originally intended to give her kidney, was unable to do so.

Nicholas turned to Pat Wise, a childhood friend, and told him that his physicians had advised him to start looking for a donor.

“I stared at my phone and without hesitating, filled out the form that night,” said Wise. “John is a trustworthy pal. I had an extra kidney, and he needed one. I had to investigate the possibility of being his donor, if nothing else.”

Wise went to Chicago after learning he was a match, where doctors removed one of his kidneys and transplanted it into Nicholas.

“Give an incredible gift to a friend is always a good feeling, and in some way contributing to this incredible medical advancement is icing on the cake,” Wise stated.

The process was completed on May 24 in less than two hours by Drs. Satish Nadig of Northwestern Medicine, Vinayak Rohan of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Vicente Garcia Tomas of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s anesthesiologist.

Nicholas was put under anesthesia akin to that of a cesarean section patient.

“Doing anesthesia for the awake kidney transplant was easier than many C-sections,” Tomas stated. In John’s instance, we administered a spinal anesthetic shot in the operating room along with a small amount of comfort sedation. It was quite easy and uneventful, and it made the patient experience better by enabling John to be awake during the process. Patients who are afraid of or have a phobia of general anesthesia can benefit from awake kidney transplantation not just because it can reduce hospital stays and allow patients to recuperate more easily at home.”

Despite the fact that Nicholas had no dangers or fears related to general anesthesia, his age, low risk profile, and enthusiasm to take part in a unique surgery for Northwestern Medicine made him an excellent candidate.

“It was a pretty cool experience to know what was happening in real time and be aware of the magnitude of what they were doing,” Nicholas commented. “I remember wondering, ‘Should I be expecting the spinal anesthetic to kick in?’ at one point during operation. I had been totally unaware that they had already been putting in a lot of work. Really, not a feeling at all. For my personal comfort, I had been given some anesthesia, but I knew exactly what they were doing. Particularly when they called out my name and informed me of some of their accomplishments.”

Following a successful surgery, Nicholas was released from the hospital the next day.

At Northwestern Medicine, patients having kidney transplants typically spend two to three days in the hospital.

The Accelerated Surgery Without General Anesthesia in Kidney Transplantation (AWAKE) program is being established at Northwestern Medicine for patients who wish to undergo the procedure but cannot have general anesthesia, are at high risk of receiving it, or could benefit from it.

“It really opens up a whole new door and is another tool in our toolbelt for the field of transplantation,” Nadig stated. “If you think of what kidney transplant is, taking an organ, saving somebody’s life, now, making it an overnight stay, 24 hours in the hospital, remarkable, to mitigate the risks with invasive procedures in the hospital.”

On Monday, Nicholas and his medical team discussed the uncommon surgery.

“I just want to express how truly powerful this experience was, fact that it was truly life changing,” Nicholas stated. We’ve always told each other that we’re lifelong friends—ride or die. We truly were a true example of support for one another. To me, it was everything.”

More information about Northwestern’s Medicine’s kidney transplant program can be found here

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