Frequently Asked Questions About Living Kidney Donation

Thank you for your interest in living kidney donation. This potentially lifesaving gift is also a major commitment, and we want you to be as informed as possible when considering this option. The Q&A below addresses the most common questions we receive from potential donors. Should you have any questions not addressed here, please call our clinic at 214-645-1919 and ask to speak with one of our kidney donation coordinators. We’re here to help. 

How do I get started?

To begin the process, you will need to submit an application to our clinic. This application collects some general health information and covers basic issues that help in our evaluation process. A kidney specialist will review your application to determine if you are a suitable candidate.

At the same time, we will be evaluating the potential kidney recipient. Once he or she is approved, we will start the donor evaluation process.

What should I expect as part of the donor evaluation?

The donor evaluation is a multipart process that takes place over several days. You will have appointments with a kidney specialist, surgeon, social worker, donor coordinator, and donor advocate. In addition to interviews with these individuals, you will have labs drawn, a urinalysis (urine study), a chest X-ray, an EKG, and other imaging of your kidneys. The recipient’s health insurance covers these tests. 

What additional cancer screenings are required?

In addition to the above tests, we will need you to have—or provide prior results for—several cancer screenings. These include an annual Pap smear for women over 21; annual mammogram for women over 40; and a current colonoscopy for anyone over 50. Please note that you are expected to pay for these tests and/or submit the costs to your insurance.

Who pays for the donor kidney evaluation and transplant?

The recipient’s health insurance covers the donor evaluation testing (except cancer screenings, as noted above), the transplant surgery, your hospitalization, and your post-operative appointments according to a defined schedule. Future health problems experienced by living donors following donation may not be covered by the donor’s insurance.

If the donor pre-transplant evaluation discovers medical issues that must be corrected before the transplant surgery, you will be responsible for the charges associated with the treatment, either by your own health insurance or private payment.

Personal expenses for travel, housing, child care, and lost wages related to donation are not covered by insurance or reimbursed.

What do I need to know about surgery and hospitalization?

The surgery is called a laparoscopic nephrectomy—the removal of a kidney with the aid of a scope inserted in the abdomen. The surgeon will make 3 small incisions and 1 larger incision (2-3 inches) to remove the kidney. The average length of stay in the hospital following surgery is 1-2 days. During your stay, you will get instructions on postoperative care and how to manage the lifestyle changes that result from having only one kidney.

What is the typical recovery time?

This is considered major surgery, and most donors need about 4-6 weeks to fully recover. Most donors are able to return to work after several days or weeks following surgery, depending upon the job. Most donors report the need to take pain medications for 2-3 weeks. Our donor coordinator can assist with Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and short-term disability paperwork, if needed.

Are there any physical restrictions after the surgery?

Donors may not drive if they are taking narcotic pain medications (usually about 2-3 weeks) because these drugs significantly reduce response times and reflexes. Donors should not lift anything heavier than 5 pounds—about the weight of a gallon of milk—for at least 8 weeks. If your job involves heavy lifting, you may return to light duty sooner. 

When are the follow-up appointments?

Follow-up appointments, covered by the recipient’s insurance, are on the following defined schedule:

  • 7-10 days after surgery
  • 3 months
  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • 2 years

What if I become pregnant following donation of a kidney?

Donors are encouraged to wait at least 6 months before attempting to become pregnant. You should make your obstetrician aware that you have donated a kidney because there is a slightly increased risk of preeclampsia—a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication that includes high blood pressure and increased protein in the urine.  

What will my lifestyle be following donation?

On average, donors will have a 25% to 35% permanent loss of kidney function at donation. As such, you will need to see your primary care physician each year for routine labs and blood pressure checks and maintain a healthy weight and diet. 

You should also avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Motrin IB, Nuprin), naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn), and aspirin (Anacin, Ascriptin, Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin, Excedrin).

You will always need to alert all health care workers of your donation for the rest of your life.

Are my results confidential?

We are committed to maintaining confidentiality for both the donor and the recipient. Information gathered from the donor evaluation can be shared with only the donor, unless mandated by law.

What if I change my mind?

Your participation is voluntary and should be free from inducement and coercion. You may choose not to participate or may withdraw at any time without adversely affecting your relationship with your doctors and nurses. Your decision to withdraw your application or halt your evaluation is considered part of your private and confidential health information. If you are accepted as a living donor, you also have the right to opt out of donating your kidney at any time.