Experiencing Living Kidney Donation at UW Health
Apply to be a Donor
There are many things to learn and think about before taking the steps to become a living donor. Living donation at UW Health is an exciting experience and we want you to understand the entire process.
The Living Kidney Donation Process
A living donor needs support from family and friends. We encourage people who are considering donation to learn more and discuss the idea with their support system before they take the next step.
Our transplant team uses an online screening tool to gather information about a potential donor’s health to decide if they may be healthy enough to donate a kidney. The tool asks questions about current and past health, family history and risk factors. Our team will review the responses and contact the people that can move on to step three, evaluation. If people learn they are not able to move forward to evaluation, there are many other ways they can help. (See step five)
Evaluation day is an eight-hour day at the UW Health Transplant Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. During this day, we will share a large amount of information about living donation. We will be very careful and thorough as we evaluate the potential donor’s health. People who are very eager to donate may question the amount of testing. It’s important to remember that our team must consider everything they know about the potential donor’s health when deciding who could safely donate.
There are three parts to the evaluation day:
1. Medical tests
- Health history and physical exam
- Blood and urine test
- Chest x-ray
- 3D reconstruction CT/CAT scan of abdominal organs, kidneys and the kidney’s blood vessels
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) to record the electrical signals in the heart
- Other tests/consults as needed
2. Meetings with living donor team members
- Social Worker
- Nephrologist (Kidney specialist)
- Transplant surgeon
- Transplant nurse coordinator
- Independent living donor advocate
3. Education about living donation
- Donation process
- Donation options
- Surgical procedure
- Pain management
- After surgery care
After evaluation day, our living donor team will review the results of all the tests. This special team of people have a lot of experience with living donation. They decide if donation is a good option for each potential donor. Their decision is shared with the potential donor. The team will answer the potential donor’s questions and discuss their options for donation.
The potential donor is medically approved to donate a kidney.
- The potential donor is emotionally prepared to donate
- The potential donor has no psychosocial risks to donation
- Our team will share donor options that will meet the donor’s personal needs and ensure the recipient gets the best possible kidney
Not Approved to Donate
Our experts have decided that the medical, emotional and/or psychosocial risks of living donation are too high. Remember, the time and effort put into this process is a powerful act of support. Transplant recipients often say that what was most meaningful to them was their loved one’s desire to help. There are other ways to help!
- Be their champion (Learn how to be a Donation Champion)
- Provide family and/or pet support, meals, driving assistance and/or companionship for the donor or recipient
UW Health has six different ways a living donor can donate:
- Direct donation
- Compatible share
- Paired exchange
- Non-direct donation
- Voucher program
- Advanced donation
These options allow donors to donate, even if their blood type, anatomy and/or timeline for surgery does not match with their intended recipient. Learn the options for living kidney donation to allow anyone who is healthy enough to donate to donate.
At many times during the evaluation process, our team will discuss these things with the potential donor:
- Financial considerations: It’s important for potential donors to learn if donating a kidney could affect their job or financial status in any way.
- Caregiving and family roles: After surgery, donors will need time to recover and heal. They will not be able to do their normal household activities or care for children or other family members.
- Body image: Although the incisions are quite small, and often fade over time to be barely noticeable, donors do have scars on their abdomen. Some donors say they feel different about their body and overall physical appearance. Donors can speak with their surgeon to discuss options to lessen scarring.
- Mood changes: Some donors feel depressed or struggle to cope while they are recovering and are limited in normal daily activities. Some donors have changes in relationships with their family or the recipient of their kidney.
Remember! Live kidney donation is voluntary. A potential donor can choose to not donate at any time in the process. Our independent living donor advocate is ready to talk with potential donors if their decision to donate changes. Privacy is always protected, including all the potential donor’s decision-making concerns.
After the donation decision is made, we will either schedule the surgery date or wait for a match (for paired-exchange donation). Before surgery, the donor will meet with the medical team who will check for any changes in the donor’s health. They will teach responsible pain management, discuss ways to improve the recovery process and answer any questions.
Donors must bring these things to the hospital:
- Any medications they take every day
- Comfortable clothes that will be loose around the incision
- Walking shoes
We suggest donors bring:
- Personal and comfort items such as toothpaste, shampoo, pillows
- Books or other things to stay busy
Do not bring any items of value.
View this diagram (pdf) to see the donors surgery day timeline and experiences.
This is a safe procedure, but all surgeries have risks. Risks include:
- Significant bleeding (rare)
- Blood transfusion (rare)
- Return to the operating room (very rare, <1 in 100)
- Wound complications (rare)
- Developing high blood pressure (risk may be slightly higher for donors)
- Renal failure over lifetime (after donation = <1 in 100)
- Death during the surgery (very low, estimated at 3 in 10,000)
There are two types of donor surgeries: laparoscopic and open.
Almost all donor surgeries (more than 99 percent) are done with the laparoscopic method where a few tiny incisions (5-10 mm) are made and a camera and instruments are inserted. The kidney is removed through a small incision at the pant line. View an image of the incision points
Living donors recover on the transplant unit at University Hospital.
Common issues for kidney donors include bloating, nausea and tiredness, but they are up and walking very quickly, and can return to a regular diet.
Our team follows a rapid recovery program. With responsible pain management, donors usually go home two days after donation. Before they leave the hospital, donors are scheduled for their first follow up visit at the transplant clinic, which happens 2-4 weeks after donation.
Donors may experience soreness with activity, a poor appetite and unusual bowel habits. This checklist includes important reminders to improve recovery:
- Take as much time off from work as is needed, depending on job role
- Use responsible pain management and don’t drive while on narcotic pain medications
- Go for a walk, but limit strenuous activities
- Avoid constipation by eating a diet high in fiber
- Contact the transplant team if needed
Everyone recovers at their own pace. Most donors return to their regular lifestyle by six weeks after donation. We encourage all donors to be committed to their health and wellness. We recommend a healthy diet and exercise to support good health and the remaining kidney.
Six months after donation, and annually near the donation date, donors must complete blood and urine tests and have their blood pressure checked. For their lifetime, we recommend donors have an annual physical, including blood pressure monitoring and blood and urine tests that monitor kidney function.
Becoming Involved After Donation
Living donors often seek ways to stay connected to the mission of organ, tissue and eye donation, transplant and living organ donation. UW Health welcomes your support and offers these suggestions:
- Share your story using our online form at uwhealth.org/mytransplantstory
- Use social media to stay connected and support living donation. See the many channels where UW Health is active at uwhealth.org/social
- Join our Volunteer Program at uwhealth.org/OTDvolunteer. Learn the facts about deceased and living donation, and volunteer time to support donation education and outreach activities in Wisconsin.
- Become a Mentor. Living donors are paired with people who are considering live donation to share their experience and help others during their decision-making process.
- Be a Living Donor Champion. Help potential recipients who need someone to help them find a living donor. Learn how you can be a Living Donation Champion.
- Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council. This team works to improve the patient experience by sharing feedback with our transplant professionals. Learn more about the Patient and Family Advisor Partnership Program.