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Donating a Kidney

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 (deceased donation). The waiting time for a deceased donor kidney can be as long as 8 years in some places in Canada. In other places, the wait time may be less. For this reason, more people are making the decision to become kidney donors.

Who can become a kidney donor?

Almost anyone can become a kidney donor. A living donor is:

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

What steps should I take to become a kidney donor?

If you decide to become a kidney donor, you need to contact the Living Donor Program in your area. Samples of your blood will be drawn for testing, including your blood type and other genetic information (HLA type) to see how well you match the recipient. You will have to fill out a health and social questionnaire, and then will meet with a doctor. Tests will be repeated 7 to 10 days before the surgery if you decide to become a donor.

If your blood type and genetic information match that of the recipient, you will meet with social workers at the transplant facility. You will be given information, such as how much time you will need to take off from work and details of surgery and the recovery process, that will help you make an informed decision. Your meetings with the social work team will be strictly confidential.

When will I meet with a doctor?

After you have decided to become a kidney donor and your crossmatch results are known, you will be evaluated by a doctor, usually a nephrologist. Your evaluation will begin with a medical history and physical exam. You will have a series of lab tests to screen for kidney function, including chemistry screen, urinalysis, and urine tests for protein. 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 be given a general anesthetic before your surgery. Until recently, the removal of a kidney required a 20 cm (8 in.) to 23 cm (9 in.) incision on one side of the body (flank). Now, laparoscopy is usually used to remove the donor kidney. Advantages of laparoscopic kidney removal include less pain, shorter hospital stays, a more rapid return to normal activities, and a smaller, less noticeable scar.

What are the risks of becoming a kidney donor?

Donating a kidney has not caused an increase in other health problems for donors. Organ donors continue to be carefully studied by many research groups in Canada. The risk of death following kidney donation is extremely rare.

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.

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 www.kidney.ca.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) at www.donatelife.org or www.transplantliving.org.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Mitchell H. Rosner, MD - Nephrology
Last Revised August 15, 2012
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