How to Be a Kidney Donor

Three Methods:Deciding to Donate a KidneyPreparing for SurgeryRecovering From Surgery

Becoming an organ donor is a great way to help save or improve someone's life. Unlike with most organs, you can donate a kidney while you are alive and healthy. It is a great gift to give someone. However, it is a major medical decision. Talk to your doctor to learn more about donating a kidney.

Method 1
Deciding to Donate a Kidney

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    Decide between deceased and living donation. There are two different ways to become a kidney donor. The first is known as deceased donation, which means that the kidney is harvested from your body once you are deceased. If this is the type of donation you are considering, it is very simple to register. You can visit the website Donate Life America to register, or you can declare your intentions to donate organs on your driver's license.[1]
    • A living donation is when you are still alive and healthy and choose to donate a kidney. Most of us have two kidneys, and it is possible to live an entirely healthy life with only one healthy kidney.
    • Before committing to living donation, consider the physical, emotional, and financial implications. The following information is intended for those considering living donation.
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    Consider an anonymous or personal donation. If you are contemplating making a living donation, you will need to think about who you want to receive your kidney. Many people choose to donate a kidney to a loved one who is suffering from a kidney ailment and needs a transplant. The most common kidney donations are made to a child, spouse, or sibling.[2]
    • You can also choose to donate your kidney to a distant relative, friend, or even a co-worker in need.
    • Anonymous donations are becoming more and more common. This is known as a non-directed donation, which means that your kidney may be given to anyone on the transplant list.
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    Get an evaluation from a doctor. Not everyone is eligible to become a kidney donor. If you are not healthy enough to survive a major operation, or if your kidneys are not strong enough, you may not be able to donate. In order to determine your eligibility for living donation, you will need to have a doctor perform a thorough physical evaluation.[3]
    • As a potential donor, you will undergo blood, urine, and radiology tests. Your doctor will analyze all of the results to determine your eligibility.
    • If you are making a personal donation, the blood test will determine whether your kidney is compatible with the intended recipient's physical makeup.
    • Before surgery, the doctor will order thorough x-rays of your kidneys to ensure that they are sufficiently healthy.
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    Consider the physical risks. During the initial consultation, your doctor should talk to you about the many possible risks that go along with kidney donation. You will want to carefully think about all of this information and how it could impact your life. You should discuss possible outcomes with your close family members.[4]
    • Some potential long-term side effects are nerve damage, chronic pain, and intestinal obstruction.
    • Donors are also at higher risks for health concerns such as high blood pressure, and reduced kidney function.
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    Think about the emotional effects. Donating a major organ can be a very emotional experience. When you are considering making a living donation, there are several questions you should ask yourself. For example, spend some time thinking about why you want to make the donation.[5]
    • You should ask yourself how you will feel if the recipient does not act grateful, or if your relationship becomes strained. Will you be able to handle that?
    • You also need to recognize that your kidney may not function properly in the recipient's body. Consider how you will feel emotionally if the kidney fails.

Method 2
Preparing for Surgery

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    Talk to your insurance company. After your doctor has deemed you eligible to make a living donation, you need to consider the financial costs. Some insurance plans will cover the cost of surgery and your hospital stay, but others will not. Call your insurance company and ask a representative what exactly will be covered. [6]
    • Make sure to ask if your policy will cover a 2-3 day stay in the hospital. You should also find out if your follow-up care is covered.
    • You should also make sure that you are financially prepared to miss work for 2-3 weeks. Your policy will almost certainly not cover lost wages.
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    Speak to the doctors. When you are preparing for surgery, it is a good idea to have in-depth conversations with your doctors. You may find it helpful to speak to your primary care physician, your surgeon, and other members of the transplant team. Ask questions about both the surgical procedure and the recovery process.[7]
    • Talk to your doctor about the success rate of the transplant center, and what the rate of complications for donors are.
    • Discuss the plan for follow-up care. Ask if you will be assigned an individual donor advocate to guide you through recovery.
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    Find a support system. Leading up to surgery, you will likely experience some anxiety. Make sure to talk about your fears with your doctor. You should also tell a close friend or family member that you are very emotional, and could use some extra support. Let your friends and family know that you will need some help after the surgery, as you will need time to physically recover.[8]
    • Line up people to help you before your surgery. You will have one less thing to worry about while you are recovering.
    • The hospital should provide a social worker to talk to you about the emotional aspects of donation. Make sure you schedule an appointment with her the week of your surgery.
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    Have the operation. In the days right before the operation, the doctor will run some final lab tests to make sure you are physically ready for the operation. When you are ready, you will report to the hospital or surgical center for surgery. You will be prepped for surgery and placed under general anesthesia.[9]
    • Typically, the surgery is laparoscopic. Small incisions will be made in your abdomen while laparoscopic instruments are inserted to remove the kidneys.
    • You will wake up in a recovery room, where pain medication and oxygen will be administered.
    • You will have a catheter to expel urine from your body, which will typically be removed the next morning.

Method 3
Recovering From Surgery

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    Recover in the hospital. You will need to spend 1-2 days in the hospital post-surgery. Your vital signs will be monitored and you will be given pain medication. Your nurses will encourage you to get up and walk around, as pain allows.[10]
    • Make sure that you have requested time off from work. Your total recovery time will be about 3 weeks.
    • You will likely experience gas and bloating in the first two days after the surgery.
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    Manage your pain. Once you are released from the hospital, you will continue to recover at home. Your body will need about 2-3 weeks to heal before you can return to your normal routine. Make sure that you are taking any pain medications prescribed by your doctor.[11]
    • Avoid lifting heavy objects. If you have small children, you should arrange to have help caring for them during this period.
    • Your abdomen may be slightly swollen, so wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
    • You may feel very tired during recovery. That is normal. Make sure to rest as much as possible.
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    Prepare for multiple follow-ups. You will need to see your doctor multiple times after donating a kidney. Your doctor will recommend that your first check-up occur 1-2 weeks after the surgery. You will also need to be seen after 6 months, and 1 year.[12]
    • Depending on your health, your doctor will probably want you to have an annual check-up for the rest of your life.


  • Learn as much as possible about the surgery. If possible, talk to someone who has donated a kidney.
  • Consult your doctor to find out if you are a potential donor.
  • Follow all of your doctor's instructions during the recovery period.


  • If you have any questions or concerns, contact a physician or other health care professional before engaging in any activity related to health and diet.

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Categories: Blood and Organ Donation