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Living Kidney Donation Frequently Asked Questions

What are the advantages to having a living donor?

Advantages include:

  • Better short-term and long-term outcomes, as living donor kidneys usually last longer 
  • Decreased wait time resulting in a quicker return to an improved quality of life, especially for patients on dialysis
  • Scheduled surgery, making it more convenient for patients and their families 
  • More complete medical testing is possible with living donors, helping to ensure the highest quality kidneys for transplant
  • Receiving a kidney transplant sooner often means patients are in better health, which makes recovery easier and improves the outcomes of the transplant
  • The kidney is transplanted into the recipient immediately after the donor surgery, which helps preserve kidney function and results in reduced complications

What are the risks involved with a living donor?

The risks with kidney donation are minimal. There are surgical risks related to the use of anesthesia, and possible bleeding or clotting. Research indicates that the long-term medical risks of having only one remaining kidney are low. Although most of us are born with two kidneys, only one working kidney is needed to sustain life. This allows a healthy person the chance to donate a kidney to someone in need.

Does the donor need to be a relative?

People can donate a kidney to a friend, spouse or any other non-blood related person, as well as to a relative. While the best matched kidney may come from a full-blooded sibling, many donors are not related and may only be an acquaintance of the recipient.

What does a donor have to do to be tested and approved for organ donation?

The UW Transplant staff carefully reviews each person's situation to see if the person is a suitable donor. Donors should be in good health, both physically and emotionally, and of an appropriate age. Certain medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and urinary tract or kidney problems could make someone ineligible for donation

A donor can come with the recipient to UW Hospital and Clinics for the recipient's evaluation. Blood samples will be drawn from a donor to ensure compatibility. If the donor is compatible, a medical work-up of the donor will be completed at a later date. Donors are educated on the risks associated with surgery, hospitalization and recovery. In addition, every donor has a "living donor advocate" assigned to them who meets with them to discuss their decision to donate to ensure that their questions have all been answered and that they are comfortable with their decision.

How is the donor's surgery performed?

The surgery to remove the donor's kidney is usually done using a laparoscope, a surgical instrument that is connected to a video camera. Inserting the laparoscope requires a smaller abdominal incision and a few small "keyhole" incisions around the navel. This results in less pain and scarring and a more rapid recovery. The laparoscopic surgery takes about three hours and the donor often goes home two days after surgery.

What are the costs for the donor?

The recipient's insurance or Medicare pays for all donor medical expenses. Travel costs and time away from work are often not covered by insurance and need to be considered. In the state of Wisconsin, donors may subtract up to $10,000 from their federal adjusted gross income for these costs on their state income tax form. An employee of the state of Wisconsin may also receive 30 days paid leave of absence for donating a kidney.

What about donor care after donation?

During recovery, the donor will be seen for follow-up care at the UW Health Transplant Clinic. After that, as with all individuals, it is good to obtain routine annual medical examinations, including blood pressure and urinalysis screening, with a local physician. There are no special diets or medicines that need to be taken after kidney donation.