BEING A KIDNEY DONOR
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What is living kidney donation?
A living kidney donor is someone who has an operation to give one of their two kidneys to a relative with kidney failure. The donor’s kidney will work in the person with kidney failure (the recipient), and will mean that they can go back to living a normal life without dialysis treatment. Many donors are willing to give a kidney to help someone they care about to get well, and live a normal life again.
Almost anybody can be a living kidney donor and donate a kidney to a loved one who is suffering from kidney failure. If you are in good health and under the age of 65, then you are most likely able to donate a kidney. Most people are born with two kidneys, but can we can function perfectly normally with just one.
An ethics committee at the hospital will look at each individual case to make sure that the transplant is being done ethically. A kidney cannot, for example, be taken from anyone who is being bribed or paid in any way, as this is illegal.
Do the donor and recipient have to be the same gender?
A donor does not have to be the same gender as the patient who needs a kidney. A woman can give a kidney to a man and vice versa. A donor does not need to be a blood relative. For example, a husband can give a kidney to his wife, and vice versa.
Can I donate a kidney to my small child?
If a child has kidney failure, it is best if they are treated with dialysis until they reach a weight of 20 – 30 kg. After this point a relative can usually donate a kidney to a child.
Will I have to take lots of tests to be a donor?
There are tests that help to find out if a potential donor is a close enough ‘match’ to the patient needing a kidney, which increases the chance of the kidney working in the person who needs it. A potential donor will have tests to check their basic health, and that their heart, chest and kidneys are healthy enough to go through the operation.
There are some conditions like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure which mean that the person can’t be a donor.
Once the tests are finished, a doctor will be able to tell the donor ir they are able to give a kidney. The most important first step is telling your doctor that you’d like to be considered to be a kidney donor, and ask for an assessment.
Will I be healthy after the transplant?
Most people are born with two kidneys, but a person can live a healthy normal life with just one kidney as long as they go through some tests, which show that their kidneys are working well. If you donate one kidney, the other kidney works harder and compensates very well.
How well a donor’s remaining kidney will work after the other kidney is removed is calculated very carefully before the transplant to make sure they will be well for the rest of their life. The probability or possibility of a donor having kidney problems in the future is very low. This is based on the statistics of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world who have donated a kidney.
Any operation comes with some risks. Your doctor would be happy to go through these with you.
The operation, where a kidney is removed from a healthy relative (‘the donor’), is carried out by a transplant surgeon and a transplant team. The operation’s technical name is the ‘donor nephrectomy’.
Will I feel anything during the operation?
Before the operation, the transplant team will make sure that the donor is as comfortable as possible. They will then use a general anaesthetic so that the donor is asleep through the surgery and cannot feel pain, and give antibiotics to stop any infection.
Once the donor is asleep, they will be taken into the operating theatre where the transplant surgeon and transplant team will remove one of the kidneys. The surgeons use a technique called ‘keyhole surgery’ where, using thin telescopes, cameras and specialised instruments, they are able to remove the kidney through three small cuts or ‘incisions’. Once the kidney is removed, the incisions are stitched up, and the donor is taken to the recovery room where they will wake up and taken back to the ward to recover. The operation usually takes between an hour and an hour and a half.
The kidney, which has been taken out of the donor is treated with ice and a special fluid which cleans it, and keeps it safe until it is transplanted into the person with kidney failure (the recipient).
Will I have any scars?
Following a keyhole operation where a kidney is removed, a donor will have 3 small scars. Two will be 1 cm long; the other will be around 8 to 10 cm near the left hip.
Will I be in pain after the operation?
After the operation, the donor will wake up in the recovery room. You can’t have an operation without some discomfort, but that pain is well controlled. Most donors are comfortable within a couple of hours of the operation, and many are sitting up in bed that evening and having some supper. Most donors are walking around and able to leave hospital within 3 days of the operation. The recovery time varies from person to person.
If the donor is in any more pain than expected, the medicines can be changed so that the donor feels more comfortable.
It is important to remember that even though the donor may not feel any pain and is able to get up and move around, the wound where the kidney was removed will probably take about 2 months to heal properly. Doctors advise that even if the donor is back to doing normal things, that they don’t do any heavy lifting as this might result in the wound being damaged and not healing properly.
How soon can I go back to work?
After donating a kidney a donor will need some time off work to rest. The amount of time before being able to go back to work will depend on the donor’s occupation. Some donors can return to work after just 4 weeks, others may take as long as 3 months.
A donor will be given medicine for pain from the operation, and stool softeners when they leave the hospital to help to make sure they comfortable while they are recovering. These medicines only need to be taken immediately after the operation, and soon a donor will not have to take any more medication as a result of being a donor.
Can I still play sports, drive, have sex and do normal things after donation?
Doctors would expect and encourage donors to go back to a completely normal life after donating a kidney, with very few restrictions. Donating a kidney is about doing something good for a loved one with kidney failure, and then returning back to your normal life. If you feel, however, that you are doing something that is particularly ‘risky’, your transplant team will be happy to discuss it with you before you make a decision.
While drinking lots of alcohol is always dangerous, a kidney donor can consume alcohol in moderation as normal. A female donor can become pregnant after donating a kidney if she wishes, but she should wait 3-6 months after the operation before becoming pregnant. The body needs time to recover from the surgery, and to adjust to living with one kidney before pregnancy.
The information on this page is meant as a guide only. Please ask your doctor if there is anything you are unsure about.