Considering Being a Living Donor? Here’s What to Expect.


Being a living donor is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Your kidney donation will forever change the life of a transplant recipient.

If you are considering this life-giving gift, you may be wondering what to expect from the process. Donation is possible if you have two healthy kidneys. You can donate directly to your recipient, or donation can occur through a kidney exchange program. The Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation’s (APKD) KidneyMatch Program is designed to find a kidney for your loved one by donating your kidney to someone else. This can occur in a simple two-way swap or in a chain.

It is important to note that you can live a full, normal life with one kidney, and your donated kidney can give the recipient a new lease on life. Donating a kidney is a big decision and a commitment.

What To Expect Before Surgery

You will participate in an introductory orientation and thorough medical and social-emotional evaluation. You will meet with your coordinator and surgeon, and watch training videos about the surgery and what to expect afterward. Your safety is the number one priority of the transplant center. Once you are cleared to donate, a surgery date will be scheduled or you will enter a paired exchange program.

About a week before surgery, you will go to a pre-surgical meeting. This meeting will give you more opportunities to ask questions about your donation.

Before surgery, you will need to plan for your recovery period. A social worker will help map out your recovery with the assistance of your support person. You will likely go home one or two days after surgery, but you will be under restrictions for at least the first three weeks while your body heals. If you participate in the APKD Donor Protection Program, you can get reimbursement for some or all of your lost wages during this time.

The Procedure

On the day of your surgery, you will be carefully monitored at the hospital. The surgeon will make a couple of small incisions and fill the abdomen with air, allowing them to insert cameras to see the kidney. A small three- to seven-inch incision in the lower abdomen is used to remove the kidney. It is then taken directly to the recipient while your surgeon finishes your procedure, and you move to the recovery room. The procedure itself lasts two to three hours.

The Recovery

You will likely experience some pain during recovery. This is a major surgery with an open incision. You will receive pain management while you are in the hospital, and you will be sent home with medication to help you manage pain. While on pain medication, you need to rest and avoid driving.

If you had to travel to the transplant center, your doctor might request that you stay close by. The Donor Protection Program can pay for travel expenses and hotel stays. Staying close will allow them to monitor your health and the function of your remaining kidney.

Most kidney donors can return to regular activities two to four weeks after surgery. If you regularly play contact sports or have a highly strenuous job, your restrictions may be extended. You will need to visit the transplant center six months, 12 months and 24 months after your donation to have tests and bloodwork done.

How The Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation Can Help

Throughout this process, the Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation offers donor support. Our Donor Protection Program will compensate you for many of the expenses of this process while also providing important insurance. Our paired donation program makes it easier to find a recipient who is a match. Reach out to APKD today to learn more about our lifesaving program or to sign up on our KidneyMatch registry.