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What Does Donating a Kidney Entail?

EJ Tamez, Director, Patient Coaching

If you are in need of a kidney transplant and are seeking a living donor, one of the first things a potential donor might ask is, “If I donate a kidney, what would I need to do?”

When you’re asking someone to become your donor, it helps to know exactly what you’re asking them to do. Understanding the process a potential kidney donor will go through can help you answer their questions and provide them with the information they need to decide whether to become your donor.

Here’s an overview of what donating a kidney entails to help you inform and guide potential donors.

1. Register as a Donor

Potential donors can easily start the process by clicking the “See if you’re qualified to donate” button on your microsite. They can also visit the National Kidney Registry’s Becoming a Living Donor page. After providing their name, phone number, and email, the potential donor will receive an email with a link to a medical screening questionnaire to start the process.

What Donors Need to Know:

  • It’s important that potential donors register through your microsite rather than through any other link. Registering on your microsite automatically links them to you, while using any other link puts them in the general donor pool.
  • Potential donors do not have to use the same transplant center you are using. They can choose any participating center that is most convenient for them.
  • Registering as a kidney donor does not commit a potential donor to going through with the donation. They can change their mind at any time.
  • Donors have the option of speaking to a donor mentor, who can answer questions and address any concerns throughout the donation process.

2. Medical Evaluation & Testing

Potential donors undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation to ensure they are healthy enough to donate. This includes blood tests, urine tests, imaging, and consultations with medical professionals. They may also be asked to undergo routine wellness screenings, such as a mammogram or colonoscopy. Learn more about testing for potential kidney donors.

What Donors Need to Know:

  • Donors do not need to be the same blood type as you. Through the NKR’s Voucher program, they can donate to a well-matched recipient in the NKR system and give you a voucher for a living donor transplant. When you are ready for your transplant, you activate the voucher and the NKR will find a well-matched donor for you in its system. Learn more about the Voucher Program.
  • Testing procedures and timing vary widely between transplant centers. Some transplant centers will send donors a testing kit in the mail, some require them to go to a transplant center for testing. Some, like the centers in the Donor Care Network, will do all testing in one day, others may spread the process over several weeks. Some even offer home blood draws, so donors don’t have to go to a lab. Donors should consult their chosen transplant center for details.
  • Donors do not have to pay for any testing. The costs will be covered by the recipient’s insurance or the transplant center. Required wellness screens such as mammograms and colonoscopies are considered preventative and are therefore 100% covered by most medical insurance policies.

3. Donation Surgery

If your potential donor is approved to become your donor, they will work with their selected transplant center to select a surgery date. On the chosen date, they will undergo kidney removal surgery (nephrectomy). The surgery usually takes two to three hours. They will be under general anesthesia and will be asleep for the entire procedure. Learn more about kidney donation surgery.

What Donors Need to Know:

  • Donors can choose a surgery date that works with their schedule. They do not have to have their donation surgery on the same day that you have your transplant surgery.
  • Donor nephrectomy, the removal of a kidney, is typically performed laparoscopically. Laparoscopic surgery typically results in a shorter hospital stay, less pain and scarring, faster recovery time, and fewer postoperative complications.
  • While nephrectomy is major surgery and no surgery is risk-free, it is actually one of the safest types of surgery. In a 20-year Mayo Clinic study of more than 3,000 living kidney donors, only 2.5% of patients in the study experienced major complications from kidney donation surgery and all recovered completely.
  • For donors who must take time off work for surgery and recovery, Donor Shield offers lost wage reimbursement up to $2,000 per week up to six weeks. Donor Shield also offers reimbursement up to $6,000 for travel and dependent care costs.

4. Recovery After Kidney Donation Surgery

Donors can live healthy lives with one kidney. The human body can function well with just one kidney. The remaining kidney adapts to handle the workload, and donors typically experience no significant long-term health issues related to the donation. Learn more about recovering after kidney donation surgery.

What Donors Need to Know: