Medical implications

What happens to a kidney donor after the donation?
Can a kidney donation harm the donor?

In January of 2009, The New England Journal of Medicine printed an article detailing a comprehensive research study that examined thousands of kidney donors from the last few decades and found indisputable evidence that the health of kidney donors was not harmed in the slightest!

Below is an abstract of the results of the study, or, you can read the full article.

The long-term renal consequences of kidney donation by a “living” donor are attracting increased appropriate interest. The overall evidence suggests that living kidney donors have survival similar to that of non-donors and that their risk of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is not increased.

We ascertained the vital status and lifetime risk of ESRD in 3698 donors who donated kidneys during the period from 1963 through 2007. From 2003 through 2007, we also measured the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and urinary albumin excretion and assessed the prevalence of hypertension, general health status, and quality of life of 255 donors.

The survival of kidney donors was similar to that of controls who were matched for age, sex, and race or ethnic group. ESRD developed in 11 donors, a rate of 180 cases per million persons per year, as compared with a rate of 268 per million per year in the general population. At a mean (+SD) of 12.2+9.2 years after donation, 85.5% of the subgroup of 255 donors had a GFR of 60 ml per minute per 1.73 m² of body-surface area or higher, 32.1% had hypertension, and 12.7% had albuminuria. Older age and higher body-mass index, but not a longer time since donation, were associated with both a GFR that was lower than 60 ml per minute per 1.73 m2 and hypertension. A longer time since donation, however, was independently associated with albuminuria. Most donors had quality-of-life scores that were better than population norms, and the prevalence of coexisting conditions was similar to that among controls from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) who were matched for age, sex, race or ethnic group, and body-mass index.

Survival and the risk of ESRD in carefully screened kidney donors appear to be similar to those in the general population. Most donors who were studied had a preserved GFR, normal albumin excretion, and an excellent quality of life.

Summary of the Article

Research has proved that kidney donation does not change the donor’s life expectancy nor does it increase the risk of developing kidney disease or other health problems. A person can live a normal, active life with one kidney. Research has indicated that one kidney is sufficient to maintain a healthy body. After recovery from the operation, a donor can work, drive, exercise and take part in sports, and continue with his usual activities, including military service. Being a kidney donor doesn’t affect his ability to have children, either. A female kidney donor can become pregnant and give birth, after her body has adapted to functioning with only one kidney. Many kidney donors have given birth to healthy children after a normal pregnancy.

How long does it take for the kidney donor to recover from surgery?

As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks of anesthesia and infection. In fact, due to the minimally invasive method of surgery generally used (laparoscopy), these risks turn out to be minimal.

Following the surgery, which lasts some three hours, the donor remains in the hospital for another 2-3 days for close monitoring. Pain medicine may be provided in the immediate aftermath of surgery.

Following release from the hospital, several days of rest may be required. After about 2 – 3 weeks, recovery is generally almost complete, with minimal after-effects.

Can a kidney donor become pregnant?

Yes, kidney donors can become pregnant and have children.  See the articles Pregnancy and Birth After Kidney Donation: The Norwegian Experience and Pregnancy Outcomes After Kidney Donation.  Both of these articles are from the American Journal of Transplantation.