Transplant Center
Rhode Island Hospital

Advantages and Risks of Living Kidney Donation

The Advantages of Being a Living Kidney Donor

There are several advantages to living donation.

  • Most donors report a sense of happiness and self worth knowing that they have had a positive impact on their recipient's life.
  • This option eliminates the need for potential recipients to be placed on the cadaver transplant waiting list. The average wait for a kidney from the cadaver waiting list is approximately 3½ to 4 years in New England.
  • The success rates are higher for those receiving a kidney from a live donor than those receiving a kidney from a cadaver donor. The average long-term survival of kidneys from live donors is 12 to 20 years versus 7 to 8 years for those obtained from cadaver donors.
  • The operation can be scheduled at a time that is mutually agreed upon.
  • Because the donation and transplant surgery occur at the same time, the time the kidney is out of the body without blood (ischemic time) is considerably shortened, thereby minimizing injury. Kidneys that are transplanted with minimal injury usually have early function and require less aggressive immunosuppressive medication.
  • After the surgical removal of a kidney (nephrectomy), donors may go on to live normal lives. The donor's state of health should not change after donating. The remaining kidney enlarges and is able to perform about 80% of the work the two kidneys normally do.
  • Donor nephrectomy does not change the donor's life expectancy. Because this is a well recognized fact, donors still qualify for health and life insurance.
  • The only restriction on activity for the donor is participation in highly physical contact sports or events that may increase the risk of trauma to the remaining kidney. Donors can expect a recuperation period of 4 to 8 weeks. After that time, people with one kidney can return to work, eat an unrestricted diet and participate in a normal exercise routine.
  • After donating, there is no need for long-term medications. Women of childbearing age can expect a normal pregnancy and delivery.

Risks of Living Donation

Usually, the operation involves no serious risk for the healthy donor. The procedure carries the same risk as anyone undergoing general anesthesia. Major complications due to kidney donation are rare, 1 in 1,000 cases.

Long-term problems are minimal but some have suggested there may be a small increase risk of developing high blood pressure or excretion of protein in their urine. None of these, however, have been conclusively shown to affect the long-term health of donors.

Donors are restricted from contact sports that pose a risk of trauma to the remaining kidney. Some occupations, such as the police, fire and military, have been known to deny employment to people with one kidney.