Becoming a living donor is a multi-step process that involves a medical evaluation for the donor and recipient, surgery and recovery time.
Who can be a living donor?
A living donor is a volunteer who is physically healthy, does not have kidney disease, and has a blood type that matches the recipient. Donors can be family members, friends, neighbors, or fellow church members of the recipient – anyone that is willing to donate. Donors do not have to be the same race, age, or sex as the recipient.
What kind of tests do donors have to take to be evaluated?
To make sure there is a match, the medical team compares the blood of the potential donor and recipient. Then, doctors check the donor’s blood pressure, heart rate and lung function, and take blood and urine samples. Women have to have a Pap smear and mammogram, while donors over 50 years of age need a colonoscopy. Donors also talk to a social worker or counselor. Close to donation, donors have a medical test to help the surgeons see the blood vessels of the kidney. All of these tests can be done on an outpatient basis and are scheduled when it works best.
How long does the evaluation process take?
The purpose of the evaluation is to make sure that the donor is healthy enough to undergo surgery and that the donation has the greatest chance of success. The donor’s evaluation can take several months to complete, depending on the health of the donor and how quickly the tests can be scheduled.
What is the donor surgery like?
The donor and recipient are admitted to the hospital the morning of the day of the surgery. Both surgeries take place at the same time and take several hours to complete. The donor’s surgeon makes a small cut in the donor’s belly or back to remove the kidney. After the donor’s kidney is removed, the recipient’s surgical team connects the kidney into the recipient’s body right away. At time of donation, the living donor will lose 25-40% of their kidney function. Over time the remaining kidney will enlarge to provide sufficient kidney function for the donor.
How bad is the surgical pain?
Donors usually feel the most pain the first week after surgery. Donors can take medication for any pain they have. Many donors say that seeing their recipients start to feel better helps them forget about their own pain.
What is recovery like after donation and how long does it take?
The average hospital stay for donors is 2 to 4 days. After leaving the hospital, donors have to rest at home, usually for about a week, while their body begins to heal. Over time, they start to feel better and are able to do more – most donors can drive and return to their normal lives in 4-6 weeks.
What does the donor have to do after the transplant to take care of his or her health?
Transplant centers will follow up with donors for at least two years after donation to make sure that they are healing well and are healthy. After they have recovered, donors return to the care of their regular physician. They should have their blood pressure and kidney function checked yearly for the rest of their lives.
Read some first-hand stories of living donors
Learn more on the UNOS website
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