What Is a Kidney Graft?

Autotransplant surgery

Kidney graft is a type of surgery that helps patients manage severe, long-lasting kidney pain. During the procedure, transplant surgeons remove the kidney that's causing pain and implant—or place—this kidney in a different part of your body.

Even though one of your kidneys has been moved to a different location in your body, your body still works normally because it has two healthy kidneys.

What Happens During Kidney Graft Surgery?

During a kidney graft procedure, surgeons use a type of minimally-invasive surgery called laparoscopy to make small cuts (or incisions) to view the inside of your abdominal wall. Surgeons use a thin wire with a camera attached to help remove your kidney.

After your kidney is removed, surgeons flush the blood from your kidney and then cool it down with a special solution so your kidney stays preserved. Surgeons then place your kidney in a new spot behind your pelvic bone, next to your bladder.

Moving the kidney to another part of your body severs—or breaks—your kidney's connection with nerves. This causes the pain to stop. 

Protecting Your Kidneys During Cardiac Surgery

Some patients also choose to have kidney graft surgery to protect their kidneys during cardiac surgery or thoracoabdominal aneurysm surgery. Having kidney graft surgery during these procedures protects your kidneys, allowing them to work normally after your surgery.

Treating Kidney Pain With Graft Surgery

Some patients decide to have kidney graft surgery to relieve chronic (long-lasting) pain caused by the following conditions:

Treating Kidney Stones

If you have kidney stones, graft surgery can soothe the pain around your ureters. Your ureters are narrow tubes where urine travels from your kidneys to your bladder.

If you have kidney stones, the stones also travel through these tiny tubes, causing excruciating pain.

During graft surgery, surgeons can shorten the length of your ureter. Normal ureters are about 20 cm long. But during kidney graft surgery, your surgeon will shorten your ureters down to just 3 cm.

Even though your body still produces kidney stones after graft surgery, these stones have a much shorter distance to travel. This can make pain from kidney stones much less intense.

Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome

What Is Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome?

Loin pain hematuria syndrome (LPHS) is a condition that causes severe, long-lasting pain around your flanks. Your flanks include your:

  • back,
  • sides, and
  • the upper part of your belly.

Loin pain hematuria syndrome can happen if you have chronic injuries to your kidneys, usually caused by kidney stone diseases or other illnesses.

Loin pain hematuria syndrome can also be very difficult to diagnose. Some doctors mistake it for other conditions. To diagnose it correctly, your doctor will first need to rule out other urology and kidney conditions.

Because the pain from LPHS lasts a long time, having this condition can lower your quality of life, making it difficult to work or go to school. Some people with LPHS develop addictions to prescription pain killers.

Treating Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome With Kidney Graft

There are only two treatments for loin pain hematuria syndrome:

  1. Nephrectomy (removing one or both of your kidneys)
  2. Kidney autotransplant

For many patients with loin pain hematuria syndrome, having kidney graft surgery is a better option. That's because unlike having a nephrectomy, kidney graft lets you keep both of your kidneys.

Kidney graft surgery is also successful at making the pain go away. Most patients with LPHS say their pain is more than 50 percent better after having kidney graft surgery.


Nutcracker Syndrome

What Is Nutcracker Syndrome?

Nutcracker syndrome is a disorder where the renal vein has pressure on it. For people with Nutcracker syndrome, their left renal vein gets compressed (squeezed) between the superior mesenteric artery (SMA) and aorta. Renal veins drain blood from your kidneys after your kidneys filter and clean your blood.

Nutcracker syndrome can cause pressure to build up inside your renal veins. This pressure can cause the thin walls of your renal veins to break open. If this happens, blood can appear in your urine (also called haematuria).


There are two treatments for nutcracker syndrome:

  1. nephrectomy (removing one or both of your kidneys)
  2. kidney autotransplant

For many patients with nutcracker syndrome, having kidney graft surgery offers a more effective treatment while letting you keep both of your kidneys.

Kidney graft surgery is successful at making the pain go away and relieving the symptoms of nutcracker syndrome without disrupting kidney function (affecting how your kidneys work inside your body).

Other Names for Nutcracker Syndrome

Nutcracker syndrome is also sometimes called posterior nutcracker phenomenon and Wilkie syndrome

Some patients confuse Nutcracker syndrome with Wilkie syndrome (also called superior mesenteric artery syndrome). Wilkie syndrome is a type of vascular compression disorder where the superior mesenteric artery presses and puts pressure on a part of your small intestine called the duodenum.

Who's Eligible?

Kidney graft is only an option for patients with severe kidney pain that hasn't improved with other treatments.

Our multidisciplinary team will review your medical issues and symptoms to help you determine if a kidney graft is the best option.

Multidisciplinary Team

Because kidney graft is only an option for people who've tried other treatments, it's important that your surgical team comes from different areas of medicine to make sure that kidney graft is the best treatment option for you.

To correctly diagnose loin pain hematuria syndrome, for example, you will need to see a qualified urologist to make sure your pain isn't being caused by something else.

Our team is multidisciplinary and has expertise in several different areas. This means you'll receive the correct diagnosis, and this information can help you decide if kidney graft is the best treatment.

Our multidisciplinary team includes:

  • urologists,
  • interventional radiologists,
  • cardiothoracic surgeons, and
  • transplant surgeons.

We work together to develop a multidisciplinary care plan for you.

Find a Kidney Graft Team Member


University of Utah Health's kidney graft group has multiple ongoing research projects to determine how kidney transplant can help treat kidney disease. We are also actively publishing the results of these studies.

You can read about some of our research activities here.