Watch CBS News

Chicago man awake the whole time for kidney transplant by Northwestern Medicine surgeons

Chicago man is awake throughout kidney transplant surgery at Northwestern
Chicago man is awake throughout kidney transplant surgery at Northwestern 00:53

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For the first time, surgeons at Northwestern Medicine have completed a kidney transplant during which the patient was awake the whole time.

The surgery took place back on May 24. The patient—John Nicholas, 28, of Chicago—was discharged to go home the day after the surgery. He said he felt no pain.

Instead of normal general anesthesia, Northwestern Medicine doctors gave Nicholas a spinal epidural, a nerve block, and light sedation.

The surgery itself took less than two hours.

Nicholas said he did not feel anything in his lower body during the surgery at all. The doctors who handled the surgery—transplant surgeon and Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center Dr. Satish Nadig, transplant surgeon Dr. Vinayak Rohan, and anesthesiologist and chief of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine Dr. Vicente Garcia Tomas—said the procedure could be life-changing for patients.

"Doing anesthesia for the awake kidney transplant was easier than many C-sections," said Dr. Garcia Tomas. "For John's case, we placed a spinal anesthesia shot in the operating room with a little bit of sedation for comfort. It was incredibly simple and uneventful, but allowed John to be awake for the procedure, improving the patient experience. Not only can awake kidney transplantation help patients who have risks or phobias to general anesthesia, but it can help shorten their hospital stay so they can recover more comfortably at home."

Nicholas was quite impressed himself.

"That particular moment where I saw the kidney in Dr. Nadig's hands, like, extremely powerful to see that," he said.

An old friend becomes a kidney donor

While speaking about the procedure at a news conference Monday, Nicholas was surprised by his childhood best friend—who donated his new kidney.

Nicholas had been suffering issues with kidneys since the age of 16, after being diagnosed with Chron's disease years before that. His kidney function had been declining, and inflammation in his kidneys was causing the damage—though a root cause was never found, Northwestern said.

Nicholas had been able to avoid dialysis and had managed his kidney condition with medication. But after moving to Chicago in early 2022 and beginning seeking care at Northwestern, his kidney function declined—and it was determined that he would need a transplant, Northwestern said.

Nicholas' mother had originally volunteered to be the donor, but she could not donate after a breast cancer diagnosis. His best friend growing up in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, Indiana—Pat Wise, 29, who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia and works for a public health agency—became the donor.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.