Donating a Kidney

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Topic Overview

Kidney transplantation is the best way known to save a person's life after he or she develops kidney failure. In the past, kidneys were only taken from living close relatives or from people who had recently died. But transplants from both living and deceased donors have a good chance of success. The waiting time for a deceased donor kidney can be as long as 8 years in some places in Canada. For this reason, more people are making the decision to become kidney donors.

Who can become a kidney donor?

A living donor needs to be:

  • In good general health.
  • Free from diseases that can damage the organs, such as diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or cancer.
  • Willing to donate.
  • Age 18 or older.

What steps should I take to become a kidney donor?

If you want to become a kidney donor, you need to contact the Living Donor Program in your area.

The living donor coordinator is a registered nurse who can answer any questions you may have regarding living donation and will help get the process started. The coordinator will complete a medical social history with you and discuss aspects of living donation including the potential benefits and risks.

Potential donors will have blood, urine and radiology (x-rays, ultrasound) testing to determine suitability for donation and will meet with the social worker at the transplant facility. All your information is confidential. If you are not blood group compatible to the recipient you can still be a living donor through a program called Living Donor Paired Exchange (LDPE), the work up process is the same.

When will I meet with a doctor?

The Medical Director of the living donor program oversees the initial testing for the living donor.

Once testing is completed, you will be assigned a nephrologist (kidney specialist) who will complete a medical history and physical exam. You may also have a CT scan of the kidneys to evaluate your kidneys, urinary tract, and other structures in your pelvis.

What is involved in kidney transplant surgery?

You will meet with a transplant surgeon prior to booking a surgery date. The surgeon will discuss the two surgical options available including an open or laparoscopic procedure to remove the donor kidney. The transplant surgeon will inform you which procedure is best for you. The surgeon will review the risks of the surgery with you and also complete a physical exam.

A general anaesthetic is given in the operating room. You can anticipate a 3 to 5 day stay in the hospital.

What are the risks of becoming a kidney donor?

Removing a kidney from your body involves major surgery. There is a risk of complications from surgery, such as pain, infection, pneumonia, and bleeding.

A person only needs one healthy kidney to live. But doctors are learning that donating a kidney may increase the chances of certain health problems in the years after the donation. More research is being done to better understand these long-term risks.

Donating an organ can affect you and your family. Many emotional issues are involved. There may be costs such as travel expenses and lost wages.

If you are thinking about donating a kidney, your medical team will help you understand the pros and cons so you can make the decision that's right for you.

What limitations will I have after I have donated a kidney?

Donating a kidney will not cause any limitations in your normal daily activities. After the recovery from your surgery, you will be able to resume all of your normal activities, including exercising and participating in sports.

Donating a kidney will not affect your ability to become pregnant, carry a child to term, or father a child. Pregnancy is usually not recommended for at least 6 months after surgery.

If a woman has donated a kidney, her risk for pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure during a pregnancy may be higher.

Who pays my hospital costs?

In Canada, your medical costs will be covered by the recipient's provincial health plan.

More information

For more information on becoming a kidney donor, see:

  • The Kidney Foundation of Canada at
  • Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at This is a part of Canadian Blood Services.


Other Works Consulted

  • Garg AX, et al. (2015). Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia in living kidney donors. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(2): 124–133. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1408932. Accessed September 16, 2015.
  • Rudow DL, et al. (2015). Consensus conference on best practices in live kidney donation: Recommendations to optimize education, access, and care. American Journal of Transplant, 15(4): 914–22. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.13173. Accessed October 2, 2015.
  • Segev DL, et al. (2010). Perioperative mortality and long-term survival following live kidney donation. JAMA, 303(10): 959–966. DOI:10.1001/jama.2010.237. Accessed September 16, 2015.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerTushar J. Vachharajani, MD, FASN, FACP - Nephrology

Current as ofAugust 14, 2016