Living Donation FAQ
The kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ from a living donor. One entire kidney is removed and transplanted. Living liver donation, where a segment of the donor’s liver is transplanted, occurs less often, and the donor is usually related to the recipient. Also, in rare cases, a segment of organs such as lung, intestine or pancreas can be transplanted from a living donor.
Data shows that a living donor kidney not only functions better, but it lasts longer and has a reduced risk of rejection.
The decision to donate can vary from person to person. Some people make the decision instantly with few worries or concerns. Other people need time to think and will talk with close friends or family before deciding if they will donate. It is normal for some people to be afraid of donating a kidney as well as to feel guilt about not wanting to be a donor.
People should not feel pressured to donate. The only “right” decision is the one that is comfortable for the donor. People considering donation are encouraged to speak with the living donor team for answers to their questions or to discuss their concerns.
Living kidney donors are healthy individuals over the age of 18.
In most cases, it is preferable that the donor and recipient have matching blood types. However, there are options, such as paired kidney exchange, blood type desensitization or antibody desensitization, which may be open to recipients who have a willing living donor candidate with a different blood type or high antibody level. A transplant physician or transplant coordinator can discuss these options with you.
A history of heart disease, chronic lung or liver disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer or untreated psychiatric disease usually rules out donation. Smoking, obesity and other health issues are considered on an individual basis.
Surgeons primarily use a minimally invasive technique, using three small incisions to insert instruments and a slightly larger incision (~3 inches in length) to remove the kidney. Donors usually spend 2-3 days in the hospital after donation.
Any major surgery with anesthesia involves risks, but the chance of having serious complications is extremely low. Nationally, the risk of having a life-threatening problem with donating a kidney is 1 in 3,000. The risk of minor complications such as a minor wound infection is about 2-4 percent.
A person can lead an active, normal life with one kidney, and studies show that one kidney is sufficient to keep the body healthy. After recovering from surgery, a donor can work, drive, exercise and participate in sports. A donor can continue to work in all types of occupations.
When the donor returns home, their activities will be limited. Because the kidney donor operation is major surgery, donors find they have less energy and need about 4-6 weeks to return to their normal activity level.
The donor will likely be able to return to work 2-3 weeks after the surgery, depending on the type of work they do. Some donors need more recovery time if their work requires heavy lifting or other physical demands.
All costs for the medical work-up and transplant surgery are covered by the recipient’s health insurance. When thinking about donation, people should consider additional non-medical expenses such as travel to the transplant hospital and lodging after the surgery, if not at home. Another important thing to think about is lost wages if sick time, short-term disability or vacation time are not available.
In Wisconsin, are employers required to give time off to employees involved in a transplantation or living donation procedure?
Yes, state law requires employers to provide family and medical leave to their employees. This bill requires employers to also provide leave to their employees for the purpose of donating bone marrow or an organ. See Assembly Bill 752 for more information.
Long-term medical studies of kidney donors are very positive. Results showed that donor survival was similar to that of people who had not had a kidney removed), when matched for age, sex and race or ethnic group. And, the rate of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) was significantly lower in the group of patients who donated a kidney than the rate in the general population.
Women of childbearing age can have children following kidney donation. The donor surgery does not affect reproductive organs.
It is very unusual for a kidney donor to be turned down for insurance. Anyone considering donation should discuss their concerns with the transplant program’s financial specialists, who have experience working with insurance companies.
Two to three weeks following a donor’s discharge from the hospital, the donor is asked to return to the hospital for a medical exam. Six months following donation, donors are asked to return to the transplant clinic for a follow-up visit. Donors are also encouraged to have annual appointments with their primary care provider.
In a paired exchange, a donor will donate their kidney to another recipient in exchange for a kidney that matches their recipient. Kidney paired donation (KPD) is a transplant option for recipients who have a living donor who is medically able, but cannot donate a kidney to them because they are poorly matched. Here’s an example showing exactly how a paired exchange works.