Benefits & Risks to Donors

What risks should potential living donors think about when considering living donation?

When deciding whether to donate, it is important to understand all of the possible medical, psychological, and financial risks. You can stop pursuing living donation at any point if you decide that this is not the right decision.

How does the transplant team keep living donors as safe as possible?

A potential donor goes through a medical and psychological evaluation to make sure that it is safe to donate. A Living Donor Advocate is a transplant professional whose main job is to protect the rights and health of potential living donors. This person makes sure the living donor is not being pressured into donating. The transplant team will not allow someone to donate if there are any large risks to the donor.

What are the medical risks of the surgery?

In the short term, there are risks of complications during surgery. Normally the doctors remove the kidney through a very small opening that is a few inches in length. If complications arise, the opening may have to be made larger and recovery time will be longer. The donor might have bloating and nausea afterwards. Like other surgeries, the donor will have scars, pain, and fatigue. Possible risks from donation surgery could include problems from being put to sleep, infection, fever, bleeding and blood clots. The risk of problems from surgery is less than 5%, that is 1 in 20 donors, and the risk of death is 1 in 3000 donors, less than 1%,. Some deaths have occurred, however, every effort is made by the surgical team to reduce all possible risks.

Can living donors still have children after they donate?

A woman who donates a kidney may still have children and a male donor can still father children. It is advised that a woman wait one year after donating before getting pregnant so that her body can heal fully.

What other risks are there for living donors?

It is very important that living donors do not feel pressured into donating. Donors can stop the transplant at any time, even on the day of the surgery. The donor’s relationship with the kidney recipient might change because of donation. Living donors might have body image changes. Also, there is no guarantee how long the donor kidney may last for the recipient. On average, a living donor kidney lasts 15 years, but the kidney transplant may only work for a few years or not work at all. The donor may feel upset or guilty if the kidney they donated isn’t working well.

What are the financial risks of living donation?

The donor’s medical costs are covered by Medicare and/or the recipient’s private insurance. However, time off from work and childcare, gas, meals, parking, or hotel costs associated with donor testing, surgery, and recovery are not covered by most insurance companies. Donation, in rare circumstances, may impact the ability to obtain or afford health, disability or life insurance. Donors may have issues obtaining future employment in military service, law enforcement, aviation and fire departments.

Will a living donor have health problems after donating?

Research has shown that most living donors – more than 100,000 so far – remain just as healthy after donation as people who have not donated. For most donors the remaining kidney works fine for the rest of their lives. Kidney donors are not more likely to get kidney disease after donating. Some kidney donors might get high blood pressure or diabetes in the future. Less than 1% of the time, living kidney donors lose their remaining kidney function. If this should happen, he or she will be placed at the top of the deceased donor waiting list for a kidney transplant.

Comments from donors about the benefits of transplant:

“Since the recipient was my wife, it freed both of us to do things that were difficult before, such as vacation.”

“Most people are dead when they donate; I’m alive and I get to see the results of my gift. I also enjoy hearing the activities my brother-in-law tells me about between him and his children.”

“It turned out to be a fun and exciting experience through which I helped someone very close to me. In my experience as a donor, I had support from everyone – people at work, family, and friends. It was almost like they were all rooting for me and my brother.”

“My health, the risks of the surgery, long-term problems, etc. never interfered with the fact that I was given the opportunity to make my sister well again. Seeing her healthy and back to her old self has been a rare gift that I have been able to witness.”

“I found this to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was an incredible physical, mental, and emotional challenge, and I was proud of myself for doing it.”