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Kidney Transplant

FAQs for Kidney Donors

  1. Will a living donor have health problems after donating?
  2. What happens to donor kidney function after donation?
  3. Could a donor feel pressured into donating?
  4. How much do donors pay for testing and surgery to donate their kidneys?
  5. Could I be turned down for health insurance, life insurance or disability insurance if I donate?
  6. Can living donors still have children after they donate?
  7. Will I have an ugly scar?
  8. I’m not sure my religion supports donation.
  9. Will surgery and recovery take too much time away from family or work?
  10. What if one of my kids or my spouse needs a kidney later?
  11. Why is living donor kidney transplant important?
  12. Who can become a kidney donor?
  13. Do I have to have the same blood type as the recipient?
  14. What is the surgery like?
  15. What are the risks of donating a kidney?
  16. How does a potential donor get started?


Will a living donor have health problems after donating?
A potential donor goes through an evaluation that includes a medical history and physical to make sure that it is safe for him or her to donate. The team of physicians will stop the evaluation if there is any large health risk to the donor. Research has shown that most donors – almost 80,000 of them so far – remain just as healthy after donation as people who have not donated. Kidney donors are not more likely to get kidney disease after donating. Some kidney donors might have high blood pressure in the future, but this can be managed through medication. The remaining kidney of most donors works fine for the rest of their lives.

What happens to donor kidney function after donation?
After the donation, the donor’s remaining kidney grows so that it can do the work of two kidneys. Donors have similar kidney function with one kidney to what they had before surgery – enough to live a long and healthy life.

Could a donor feel pressured into donating?
It is very important to everyone in the transplant center that donors do not feel pressured into donating. Donors can stop the transplant at any time, even on the day of the surgery. If the transplant team believes that a donor is pressured, they also will stop the donation. Most donors explain that they want to donate because they care about the recipient and want to see him or her healthy.

How much do donors pay for testing and surgery to donate their kidneys?

The donor pays nothing for the medical tests and surgery because these costs are covered by Medicare and/or the recipient’s private insurance. The donor might have to take vacation time from work or pay for childcare, gas, meals, parking, or hotel costs. Routine health maintenance like mammograms, pap smears and colonscopies are covered by the donor evaluation.  The transplant center also requires the donors to have personal health insurance.

Could I be turned down for health insurance, life insurance or disability insurance if I donate?
It is very unusual for a kidney donor to be turned down for insurance. But by all means, discuss any concerns you have about your individual situation with the transplant financial specialists. They have a great deal of experience working with insurance companies.

Can living donors still have children after they donate?
A woman who donates a kidney may still have children and a male donor can still father children. It is recommended that a woman wait one year after donating before getting pregnant so that her body can heal fully and that she is followed by a high risk OBGYN.

Will I have an ugly scar?
There are two surgical options offered at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for donors: a ‘mini-nephrectomy’ or a laparoscopic donor surgery.
The ‘mini-nephrectomy’, developed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, uses a much smaller incision than the operation that was traditionally performed to remove the donor’s kidney. The incision is usually only about three inches long and is located on your back, between the bottom rib and the hip. The surgeons usually use internal stitches that dissolve on their own. The incision site will be red for the first month or so, but then will begin to fade.

The laparoscopic donor surgery involves the surgeon making three incisions into the donor’s abdomen to accommodate surgical tools while removing the donor kidney. These incisions, which are usually no more than about three inches long, heal quickly. 

"I was amazed that I could go home in two days and had such a small incision.  This is wonderful,"  D.L., kidney donor to her husband.

I’m not sure my religion supports donation.
Almost all religious denominations approve of organ and tissue donation as representing the highest humanitarian ideals and the ultimate charitable act. To find out how your religion views organ donation, talk to your transplant coordinator or chaplain, or visit: translife.org/organ_religious

Will surgery and recovery take too much time away from family or work?
Most donors left the hospital three to four days after surgery. By the time of the first doctor’s visit two weeks later, all donors were recovering at or beyond their personal expectations. All were driving their cars again before the end of three weeks.   The time you take off to recover will depend on the type of surgery you have, whether there are complications, and the type of work you do. You typically need more time to recover if your work is physically demanding.  As a general rule, you should allow 4-8 weeks for complete recovery.

What if one of my kids or my spouse needs a kidney later?
Basically, this issue comes down to whether you think it is best to give now when you are certain that someone needs your kidney or to save your kidney in case someone very close to you needs it later. Here are some questions to consider:
  • Do you have a reason to believe that your child or spouse will suffer from kidney failure in the future? For instance, does your child or spouse have a kidney disease? Or do they have a condition like high blood pressure or diabetes that could lead to kidney disease?
  • Are there others in your family or a friend who could donate to your child or spouse if you went ahead with a donation now for someone else?
Why is living donor kidney transplant important?
For thousands of people with kidney failure, a kidney transplant is the key to freeing them from the restrictions of dialysis and enabling them to lead longer, healthier lives. Research statistics for just one group of patients show the difference a transplant can make: People between the ages of 40 and 59 who have diabetes and are on dialysis have an estimated life expectancy of eight years. If the same set of patients receives a kidney transplant, their estimated life expectancy jumps to 22 years.

Unfortunately, the number of people waiting for a kidney transplant is growing faster than the number of donated organs. For some people with kidney failure, the average time on the waiting list for a deceased donor kidney – four to five years – is longer than their life expectancy on dialysis.

Living donor kidney transplants are the best chance for some people with kidney disease to get a second chance at life.

Who can become a kidney donor?
Often, a living donor is a blood relative of the recipient - a parent, brother or sister, son or daughter, aunt, uncle, or cousin. But a donor also can be someone not related, such as a spouse, adopted child, or friend. People can also choose to donate a kidney anonymously. To qualify as a living donor, people must be willing to donate and be physically healthy.

Potential donors undergo some initial tests to see if their kidney is a suitable match for the recipient. If it is, they have a thorough medical examination, including laboratory tests, x-rays, and appointments with physicians.

Do I have to have the same blood type as the recipient?
In most cases, it is preferable that the donor and recipient have matching blood types or that the donor does not have a high level of blood factors, or antigens, which would make the recipient’s body reject the donor kidney. Lab tests can determine how closely the donor and recipient match.

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 antigen level. A transplant physician or transplant coordinator can discuss these options with you.

What is the surgery like?
Usually, the donor is admitted to the hospital the morning of surgery. During the operation, the surgeons remove a kidney, most often the left one, along with the renal artery, vein and ureter. The kidney is immediately placed into the recipient in a neighboring operating room. The surgery usually takes three to four hours. After a short stay in the recovery area, the donor is returned to their hospital room.

What are the risks of donating a kidney?
Although any major surgery involves risks, the chance of serious complications occurring is extremely low. And minimally invasive donor kidney removal procedures offered at Barnes-Jewish Hospital significantly decrease any pain or complications related to the surgery. Most donors do not experience problems and return to their normal lives after healing from surgery. A transplant surgeon can answer any questions regarding possible complications.

How does a potential donor get started?
For those wishing to donate a kidney, or for answers to additional questions or concerns, please contact us at 314-TOP-DOCS (314-867-3627) or toll-free 866-867-3627 for a Washington University kidney specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

For additional information or to begin a kidney transplant evaluation, call .

Kidney Transplant - Gift 1

Edith Ritter needed a kidney transplant. Her son Steven Pursely found out he was a match. Watch their special relationship play out in Part 1 of this three part Patient Story series.

 

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