He Just Got a New Kidney, No Anesthesia or Opioids Needed

John Nicholas underwent an 'awake' transplant surgery at Northwestern: 'Very surreal'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2024 9:10 AM CDT
He Stayed Awake for His 'Surreal' Kidney Transplant
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/gpointstudio)

Usually, a kidney transplant patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital spends two to three days after the procedure recuperating in the Chicago medical center before being sent home. John Nicholas was back in his own bed the next day, partly thanks to surgeons operating on him using an uncommon "awake" transplant procedure. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that, instead of the general anesthetic typically used for such a surgery, doctors used a spinal anesthetic on the 28-year-old Nicholas, which numbed him from the waist down, much like what you'd see in a C-section.

CBS News notes that Nicholas started having kidney issues when he was 16, after a diagnosis of Crohn's disease a few years before that. A new kidney became necessary after his inflammation worsened; a childhood friend was matched with him to be his donor. The surgery itself took less than two hours, and Nicholas didn't need a ventilator to help him breathe, according to a press release. He also required "zero opioid narcotic pain medication" afterward to manage his discomfort, says transplant surgeon Dr. Satish Nadig. "Just that, in and of itself, is great," Nadig says.

As for how Nicholas himself viewed the experience, he tells the Sun-Times it was a "very surreal" thing to go through, but that, in terms of having surgery, "it was pretty easy." He said that he had "no sensation whatsoever" in the area of the procedure, at one point even asking them when the spinal anesthetic was going to kick in—it already had, and they'd already begun the surgery, which he'd been "completely oblivious" to, per WLS. Northwestern is now looking to make such a transplant program more permanent to take on patients who either can't undergo general anesthesia or have phobias about it. "It really opens up a whole new door and is another tool in our tool belt for the field of transplantation," says Nadig. (More kidney transplant stories.)

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