Northwestern Medicine performs first awake kidney transplant

Surgeons say they have successfully performed a kidney transplant on a patient who was awake during the operation.

The patient who underwent the medical breakthrough is John Nicholas, a 28-year-old biomedical engineering student.

About 10 years ago, Nicholas started experiencing symptoms of kidney failure and, after dialysis treatments began to fail him, he knew he was going to need a kidney transplant.

That's when John and his family called on his best friend since elementary school, who stepped up and offered him a kidney.

"He was a match. We went through the process to get it done and we got it done," Nicholas recalled.

They got it done in just 24 hours, while most kidney transplants take 2 to 3 days in the hospital thanks to doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who performed the first awake kidney transplant in hospital history.

"It’s less invasive, more comfortable for the patient, it leads to better pain control and our patient didn’t consume any opioids at all," Dr. Vincente Garcia Tomas told FOX 5 NY.

Dr. Tomas is the chief of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He shared how doctors used their tools to expedite recovery along with a spinal anesthesia shot for the historic operation.

They say it was less complicated than most C-sections and doctors could even communicate with Nicholas in real time during the surgery.

"They were able to show him the kidney that was going to be transplanted into him," shared Garcia Tomas.

Now the future of kidney transplants could be well on their way to becoming an outpatient procedure.

"I was up and walking around. I was going to the bathroom. I was eating solid food pretty much fairly back to normal," Nicholas said of his recovery just 1 day following the operation.

Going forward, doctors at Northwestern share that they're working toward an Awake Kidney Transplant program offering the option to more patients who have higher risk factors associated with general anesthesia.

They say they've already identified 5 patients who may be a good fit for similar transplants by the end of summer.