Interested in becoming a living kidney donor?
Please watch this four-video series, which provides a great deal of information on the process, from the reasons kidney donation is considered so important, to what is required of living donors, to details about a kidney paired exchange.
Living Kidney Donation
Offering a kidney to another person who needs a transplant is a very generous and caring gift. It is a gift that requires a great deal of thought and consideration. Donating a kidney is a very personal decision. Only the potential donor can determine if it is the right choice for them and only after thoroughly contemplating the risks and benefits and life-long impact of this decision.
The Transplant Institute of Florida at Largo Medical Center is grateful that you are taking the time to think about the possibility of being a living kidney donor. It is our hope that you feel honored and respected by our team throughout the experience, regardless of whether or not you choose to donate. If you make the decision to be evaluated as a potential living donor, the Transplant Institute of Florida will not pressure you to complete the work-up process.
You have chosen to consider a living donation because someone you care about has End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and will be unable to survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant. Patients who receive a transplant are likely to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. A kidney that is transplanted from a living donor tends to function longer than a kidney from a deceased donor. For those patients that are not fortunate to have a living donor, they could potentially wait three to five years for a transplant.
Should you decide to proceed with the process of being worked-up as a potential living donor, you will go through an extensive evaluation process. This evaluation will include a thorough medical exam, lab work and other diagnostic tests and psychosocial assessment. One of the most important components of the work-up will be ongoing education regarding the risks, benefits and alternatives to living donation. The evaluation is a very important part of the living donor process. The Transplant Institute of Florida wants to assure that you, as a donor, are healthy and will not place yourself in undue risk by donating a kidney. The elements of the evaluation will be described for you in greater detail before you are asked to consent to proceed. During the evaluation, you will be meeting with various members of the Living Donor Team.
The Transplant Surgeon is the physician who performs the operation to remove the kidney for placement in the recipient patient. He or she will perform the medical examination and will discuss with you the potential risks of surgery as well as what you can expect regarding recovery and your return to normal activities. He will also discuss with you the different types of surgery to safely procure the kidney including the minimal invasive (laparoscopic) approach.
The Transplant Nephrologist is a kidney specialist who will be involved in your medical evaluation and will help you understand the long-term implications of living with one kidney.
Living Donor Coordinator
The Living Donor Coordinator is a specialized nurse who will arrange for the medical testing needed for the work-up. He or she will be the team member who will provide much of the education that you will need regarding the evaluation, surgery, recuperation and follow-up.
The Dietician will assess your nutritional status and make recommendations regarding your diet as it relates to your appropriateness for living donation.
Social Worker or Psychologist
The Social Worker or Psychologist will interview you to assess your psychological readiness to proceed with possible donation. He or she will help you consider the emotional aspects of donating a kidney. Additionally, he or she can assist you with resources that you may need if you are traveling some distance from home to be evaluated.
Independent Living Donor Advocate
The Independent Living Donor Advocate is a person who does not work for the Transplant Institute of Florida but is specially trained in the many aspects of living donation. He or she is assigned to you for the sole purpose of representing your interests. He or she will provide emotional support throughout the process and will help you to think through all of the information being given to you so that you can make the best decisions for yourself.
There are other specialists that you may meet as part of your evaluation, depending on your particular circumstances. Additionally, there are other team members who will be working behind the scenes to assist with the work-up and arrangements for surgery, should it be determined that you are a candidate for living donation and you decide to proceed.
Risks to Consider
A person can lead an active, normal life with only one kidney. The remaining kidney enlarges and is able to do 70-80 percent of the work that the two kidneys did before. This is enough for all the needs of the body. This has been proven because doctors have found healthy people who discovered late in life that they were born with only one kidney. Additionally, living kidney donors have been followed for years to determine the long term effects of donating a kidney.
Still, as with any operation, there are risks. Some of these are related to the surgery itself and some are related to living with only one kidney. It is very important that you get regular medical follow-up for the rest of your life after donating to protect the functioning of the remaining kidney. In the unlikely event that something happens to your remaining kidney, the current national policy protects you as a living donor. It requires that if you are a candidate for dialysis, that you now become a priority on the transplant list.
There are potential psychological risks as well, such as concerns about body image and emotional distress if the kidney does not work well after transplant or if your relationship with the recipient changes.
These risks will be discussed with you in greater detail if you decide to go forward with living donor evaluation. As with any major life decision, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits and consider the alternatives before proceeding.
In most cases, the recipient’s insurance covers the cost of living donation evaluation and surgery. In some instances, it may cover the cost of transportation, lodging and meals. Depending on your circumstances, other funds may be available to you to cover those costs.
It is important to consider any income that you will lose if you are off of work for a period of time. Some employers will allow the use of sick or vacation time in order for someone to donate. The surgeon will discuss with you how long you can expect to be on leave, depending on the kind of work that you perform. Complete recovery from kidney donation may take 4-8 weeks. Many people who have office type jobs can return in 10-14 days.
While it is illegal for organ donors to accept money or other items of value beyond their actual expenses related to the donation, family members and others may be able to provide financial support to help cover real costs that directly result from the decision to donate. Your social worker will help you think through these matters.
The Surgery, Hospitalization and Recovery
The operation to remove the kidney is done laparoscopically. A series of small incisions are made in the abdomen through which a device with a camera is passed to view the abdominal cavity and assist in removing the kidney through a small incision at the bikini line. The surgery usually takes about two hours. The recipient’s surgery immediately follows your surgery.
You will be given pain medication to reduce the discomfort following surgery. Most patients stay in the hospital one or two nights. By the time you get home, you will be walking, taking showers and increasing your activity. You will not be allowed to drive initially because you won’t be able to respond as quickly to usual driving situations. As with any major operation, it will take a few weeks for your normal strength and energy to return.
You will have a follow up office visit with your transplant team approximately one week after hospital discharge. Additionally, the team will want to see you after six, twelve and twenty four months. You must agree to commit to postoperative follow-up and testing coordinated by the Transplant Institute of Florida at Largo Medical Center for a minimum of two years. Although studies have shown that kidney donation does not affect the completion of a safe pregnancy and childbirth, it is typically recommended to wait to become pregnant at least six months after surgery.
Benefits of Living Donation
Transplant Institute of Florida at Largo Medical Center will discuss the potential risks of living donation in a very open manner. It is important to consider those along with the benefits to both you and the recipient. For the recipient, living donation eliminates the time spent on the national waiting list waiting for a kidney. It means that the recipient’s surgery is a scheduled procedure rather than an urgent operation that will occur with little notice. Living donation typically results in a better outcome for the recipient because it significantly decreases the time from donor to actual transplant. The function of a living donor kidney typically lasts years longer than that of a deceased donor kidney.
While you as the donor receive no direct medical benefit from giving a kidney, you are able to enjoy the pleasure of witnessing the increased health and quality of life of someone you care about. For most donors, there is a sense of joy in knowing that they contributed to someone’s life in a very special, meaningful and practical way.
To learn more about the Transplant Institute of Florida, please call (727) 588-5728.