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Living Kidney Donation

Benefits and risks of being a living kidney donor

What are the benefits of living donation?

For donors

Donating a kidney is an act of great kindness. It has no health benefits to the donor, but it can be very rewarding. Knowing you’re helping someone feels good. Many donors say that if they had to start over again, they would still choose to donate their kidney.

Other reasons donors find it rewarding are because they:

  • are happy to have helped another person
  • know that someone they care about will have a better quality of life and has the chance to live longer
  • know that they’re healthy because of the full medical checkup done as part of the donation assessment

For recipients

When a transplant is working well, the recipient (the person who receives the kidney), doesn’t need dialysis. This means they can get back to doing the things they used to do before dialysis, like go to work, exercise, and travel. When checked 1 year after the surgery, more than 9 out of 10 living donor kidney transplants are successful.

Many recipients say they:

  • have more energy
  • have a better appetite
  • sleep better
  • feel better overall

Other benefits to be a living donor recipient may include:

  • a shorter waiting time for transplant
  • surgery that can be planned and done when both the donor and recipient are in the best possible physical and emotional health for surgery
  • the recipient may have a transplant before needing dialysis (sometimes called a pre-emptive transplant)
  • living donor transplants usually last longer than kidneys from a deceased donor

What are the risks of living donation and surgery?

When you donate a kidney, you’ll lose some overall kidney function. But the kidney you still have will start working harder (by about 30%) to make up for it. It’s important for you to get your blood pressure checked and blood and urine tests done at least once every year with your family doctor or healthcare provider.

The surgery to donate a kidney has the same risks and side effects that are common for any major surgery. The medicine you get during the surgery (general anesthesia​) may cause you to feel nausea, vomit, and be constipated. Many people get some numbness around the incision where the kidney was removed.

Most complications can be treated when they do happen. The risks from surgery are very low or rare and include:

  • pain from the incision or infection of the incision
  • pneumonia – higher risk if you’re a smoker
  • blood clot in your lower leg or lungs
  • bleeding that may need a blood transfusion
  • change from laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery to open surgery
  • hernia after the surgery
  • injury to other organs during surgery
  • death (very rare)

Does the type of surgery change the risks?

The surgery to take out the donor’s kidney is called a nephrectomy:

  • nephro = kidney
  • ectomy = take out or remove

This can be done in 2 ways:

  • Open nephrectomy: A single large cut (incision) is made in your belly (abdomen) and side. The incision would be 15 to 26 cm (6 to 10 inches) long.
  • Laparoscopic nephrectomy: A few, very small cuts are made in your belly (abdomen). These are used to put surgical instruments into the abdomen. A very small camera is also used to help the surgical team see inside. Then a 7 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inch) incision is made so they can take out the kidney.

Both types of surgery are major surgery. The risk is similar regardless of which type of surgery used. Occasionally during the surgery, the procedure may need to be changed from laparoscopic to open nephrectomy. The transplant surgeon will assess you and talk with you about what type of nephrectomy is best for you.

The Living Donor Program team will talk with you more about your risks for the surgery.

To find out more general information about having surgery go to Your Surgery Journey: A patient guide.​

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