What are the risks of being a living donor?
Surgery to donate a kidney has the same risks and side effects that are common for any major surgery. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Many people get some numbness around the incision. Most complications don’t happen very often and most can be treated.
These other risks are very low or rare:
- Pneumonia – higher risk if you’re a smoker
- Blood clot in your lower leg or lungs
- Hernia after the surgery
- Pain from the incision or infection of the incision
- Change from laparoscopic (key-hole) surgery to open surgery
- Bleeding may need a blood transfusion
- Reaction to the anesthetic (medicine that makes you sleep during surgery)
- Injury to other organs during surgery
- Death (3 in 10,000 donations, same as cesarean section)
The transplant team will speak with you more about the risks.
By donating 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. Getting blood pressure checks and blood and urine tests every year at your annual checkup with your family physician is recommended.
What does a living donor need to think about?
Living donors will usually:
- be in hospital for 3 to 5 days.
- be off work for 6 weeks.
- go back to doing their normal activities after 6 to 12 weeks.
- have surgery using only a few small incisions (called laparoscopic surgery)
Potential donors need to ask themselves these questions:
- Can I take time off work to do the donor testing and surgery?
- What does my health insurance cover? What do my work benefits cover?
- Who will be my support person? You’ll need help at home, because you won’t be able to lift very much or bend very well for 6 weeks.
- Do I have access to healthcare if needed?
- Would I follow a healthy lifestyle and doctors’ recommendations?
What are the benefits of becoming a living donor?
Donating a kidney is an act of great kindness. It has no health benefits to the body, but it can be very rewarding. Knowing you’re helping someone feels good. Many donors say they feel better about themselves after donating, and most say that if they could do it all 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/or live longer.
- Are sure they’re healthy, because they had a full medical checkup as part of the donation assessment.