Living Donors

Giving a kidney to a family member can be one of life's most rewarding experiences. For many families, this gift has meant restored health for the person receiving the transplant and also closer family ties. The decision to donate a kidney is a serious one. It helps to know as much as possible about the potential benefits and problems.

Are there different kinds of kidney transplants?

Kidneys for transplantation may come from a living donor or a person who has recently died (deceased). Generally, a living-donor kidney is more desirable than a deceased-donor kidney.

Why are living donor kidneys preferable?

Because kidneys from live donors are removed under ideal conditions and the donor is in optimal health, these kidneys usually function immediately and the recipient usually has less rejection. Therefore, the recipient experiences better kidney function for a longer period of time. In addition, the recipient doesn't have to wait for a deceased kidney to become available.

Who can be a living donor?

First and foremost, the donation of a kidney must be a voluntary act. Family members or friends who are in good health and are willing donors are considered. The individual circumstances of each potential donor are discussed privately and testing is started to determine compatibility.

Can kidneys be donated by non-related individuals?

Non-related donors, such as spouses or friends, are accepted as living donors. In these cases, careful consideration is given to such factors as the motives and the psychological implications for both donor and recipient. As in all transplants, the patient should discuss these issues with the physician or transplant nurse coordinator. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis.

What makes a good match between a kidney donor and recipient?

A good match is obtained when the donor and recipient have compatible blood types and tissue. The more closely related two people are, the more likely their blood and body tissues will be alike.

What if I am not compatible with the recipient that I wish to donate to?

HCMC is active in a paired exchange program that may still allow you to help your loved one or friend. Paired exchange donation allows individuals who wish to donate a kidney , but cannot because they are incompatible another option. In paired exchange donation, the donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs. The surgeries typically occur simultaneously.

What evaluation does a donor require?

To determine the health of the donor, several routine tests are conducted. These tests can be done on an outpatient basis, and include the following:

  • Blood tests to determine blood type and tissue compatibility
  • An interview with the social worker to ensure there is a healthy motive to donate
  • Blood, urine, and viral testing
  • A complete history and physical exam
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT angiogram of the kidneys (x-ray of the blood vessels of the kidneys)

What happens before the operation?

Generally, the donor and recipient are seen in the transplant clinic several days before the operation. At this time, a final physical examination and blood tests are performed. The surgeon who will be removing the kidney discusses any final questions or concerns the donor and recipient may have. You will not need to go to the hospital until the morning of surgery.

What happens to the donor during the surgery?

Shortly before going to the operating room, the donor will be given medication to help him or her relax. A general anesthetic is administered in the operating room to put the donor to sleep during the surgery. At Hennepin County Medical Center, removal of the kidney is usually performed with the aid of a laparoscope; this is a much less invasive, and less painful way of removing the kidney. If the donor is unable to have the kidney removed with the aid of the laparoscope, the surgeon will make an incision on the side from which the kidney is to be removed. The kidney is removed and taken to an adjoining operating room where the recipient has been prepared to receive the new kidney. Typically, the preparation for the surgery and the operation itself take approximately three hours. After the surgery, the donor is brought to his or her hospital room.

How risky is the operation for the donor?

All major operations have some risks. The usual risks are bleeding, infection, or blood clot formation. Fortunately, they seldom occur. Everything possible is done to prevent these problems.

How do donors feel during the recovery period after the surgery?

Although each situation is unique, donors typically have a rapid and uneventful recovery. Following the conventional operation, the donor feels tired, but this is a natural body reaction to surgery and the general anesthetic. If removal of the kidney is performed through an incision, there is pain lasting several days, and discomfort for several weeks as the muscles around the incision heal. The discomfort decreases as the donor becomes more physically active. Pain medications are given to lessen the discomfort. At HCMC, most donors are able to have the surgery laparoscopically, which makes the recovery significantly shorter and less painful.

How long do donors remain in the hospital?

If the kidney is removed laparoscopically, most donors go home in two days. If an incision on the donor's side is used to remove the kidney, most donors will be in the hospital for four days.

When can the donor return to normal activity?

The rate of recovery and return to normal activity is different for everyone. If laparoscopic surgery is performed, the donor has minimal pain and returns normal activity much sooner. With open nephrectomy, donors typically experience tenderness and stiffness as the incision heals. Generally, donors are advised to avoid heavy lifting for six weeks after hospitalization.

After donation, living donors continue to have normal kidney function. No lifestyle changes or medications are necessary after one kidney is removed.

Will giving a kidney affect the ability of a donor to become pregnant or father a child?

There is no evidence that donating a kidney has any effect on the ability to have children.

Is a donor more likely to develop kidney disease or other health problems later in life?

At present, it does not appear that kidney donation places an individual at risk for future health problems.

Who pays for the donor's medical expenses?

The donor's medical expenses related to the donation are paid for by the recipient's health insurance.

Does a donor have expenses that are not paid by the recipient's insurance?

Generally, public and private insurance programs do not pay the travel, meals, lodging expenses, or lost income that donors incur. To cover the loss of income, many donors have used sick time from work, and others have used their vacation time. Some families pool their resources to help the family member who is donating.

Do some donors have trouble making the decision to give a kidney?

Some people make the decision instantly, with few worries or problems. Others must go through some soul-searching before deciding. It is normal for a potential donor to have concerns about giving a kidney or to feel surprised about his or her own reluctance. The only "right" decision is the one with which the potential donor feels most comfortable.

The transplant staff will help in a nonjudgmental and professional manner. The transplant social worker talks with every potential donor (and spouse or family) to make sure the decision is the right one for the donor.

How do kidney donors feel about their experiences?

In a survey, living-related donors were asked, "If you could reconsider donating your kidney, would you make the same decision?" Ninety-one percent said "yes" without any reservations, while an additional five- percent stated that they would probably make the same decision. Three percent of the donors were unsure of the decision they would make, and one percent indicated that they would not give their kidney if they had to do it all over again.

Would it be possible to talk with someone who has donated a kidney?

Yes, we know of many living donors who are willing to discuss the process from a personal perspective. We can arrange to put you in contact with a living donor.

A final note to the potential living donor

This information was developed to give you basic information on living kidney donation. It should help you begin to consider the possibility of becoming a kidney donor. Feel free to discuss this possibility with your family and friends, as well as with the transplant staff. Most important, remember that, when all is said and done, the only "right" decision is the one with which you feel the most comfortable.

For more information about living donors, contact the Transplant Coordinators at (612) 873-7705 or toll free at 1-888-345-0816.