Living Donor Facts

A person can live a normal, healthy life with only one kidney. However, donating a kidney is a serious decision. Your consideration process should include ample information-gathering and consultations with experts.

The Allegheny Health Network’s Living Donor Kidney Program has an experience team of health care professionals dedicated to working with potential donors during their decision-making and eligibility process. It is important that donors fully understand how donating a kidney will affect them and their families.

Living donor frequently asked questions

Our donors’ questions frequently include the following:

Who can be a living donor?

Living donors should be in good overall physical and mental health 18 years and older. Some medical conditions could prevent you from being a living donor, including diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, or pregnancy. You should not be overweight, although you may still be a potential donor if you lose weight. Because some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important that you share all information about your physical and mental health during the eligibility process.

What are the types of living donor transplants?

In a directed donation, the donor names the specific person to receive the kidney. This is the most common type of living donation.

  • A biological relative, such as a parent, brother, sister or adult child
  • A biologically unrelated person who has a personal or social connection with the transplant candidate, such as a spouse or significant other, a friend or a coworker
  • A biologically unrelated person who has heard about the transplant candidate’s need
  • In a non-directed or altruistic donation, the donor does not name the specific person to receive the kidney. 

The match is arranged based on medical compatibility with a patient in need. Some non-directed donors choose never to meet their recipient. In other cases, the donor and recipient may meet at some point, if they both agree, and if the transplant center policy permits it.

What is a paired donation or paired exchange?

Paired kidney exchanges have become a way for transplant candidates to receive a kidney, even if their willing living donor is not a good match for donating to them. It involves two pairs of living kidney donors and transplant candidates who do no not have matching blood types. The two candidates “trade” donors so that each candidate receives a kidney from a donor with a compatible blood type. Multiple pairs can even be matched with divided pairs in a chain starting and ending with an altruistic kidney donation.

The Allegheny Health Network Transplant Institute is a member of a multi-paired kidney donation chain, organized by the National Kidney Registry and coordinated locally by the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE).

How do I start the living donor process or find out more information?

If you are interested or know someone you would like to help through living donation, contact the Allegheny Health Network’s Living Donor Kidney Program at (412) 359-4441.

What does the living donor evaluation entail?

Our team will begin a psychosocial and medical evaluation process to both protect you and to help ensure a successful transplant. You will need to answer numerous questions, including your reasons for wanting to donate, complete medical history, whether you have a physical and emotional support team throughout the donation process. Our social worker will also explain the ways that donating can affect your life, including your employment and family obligations, as well as the emotional experience.

What type of testing will I have done?

You will have a complete medical and psychosocial work up, which typically is completed in three to six weeks. We will verify your blood type and compatibility between you and the transplant candidate prior to your evaluation appointment. The majority of your testing will be completed at your evaluation appointment. For the individuals who reside out of state, we will complete your testing at a facility local to your residence.

When do I find out if I am a candidate for donation?

After all results from the evaluation process are available, they will be reviewed by our multidisciplinary living donor team, and a decision will be made to determine your candidacy. Our living donor coordinator will contact you with the results.

Will I face any health risks?

Our living donor team will discuss all health risks, benefits and alternatives to donation with you. Research has shown that kidney donation does not change life expectancy or increase a person’s risks of developing kidney disease or other health problems.

Will giving a kidney affect my daily life?

Research has shown that one kidney is adequate for a person to remain completely healthy. Shortly after recovering from surgery, you can work, drive, exercise and participate in sports, though contact sports are not recommended. Also, being a donor does not impact a person’s ability to have a child.

How do I prepare for surgery?

Your living donor coordinator will advise you about any medications and supplements that you may need to stop taking prior to surgery. Ten days before the donation, you and your recipient will go to the hospital for pre-admission testing. You will also receive at that time pre-surgery instructions, as well as information about your hospital stay and discharge.

What happens on the day of surgery?

You will be admitted to the hospital the morning of the surgery, and both you and your recipient go to the Ambulatory Care Unit. Our staff will insert an intravenous (IV) line, and you will meet with your surgeon who will answer any additional questions you may have.

How is laparoscopic surgery performed?

Four small incisions are made in your abdomen to insert laparoscopic instruments. The laparoscope contains a miniature camera that helps guide the surgeon through surgery. Once the kidney dissection is complete, a 3- to 4-inch incision is made for the removal of the kidney. These incisions are closed using stitches that absorb on their own and do not need to be removed after surgery.

What happens after surgery?

You will wake up in the recovery room feeling groggy and perhaps uncomfortable. A nurse closely monitors your vital signs and comfort level. Pain medicine will be given as needed. You will wear an oxygen mask and have a catheter draining urine from the bladder to a collecting bag in order to accurately measure your kidney's urine output. The catheter is usually left in overnight and removed the following morning.

What should I expect during my recovery at the hospital?

You are encouraged to get out of bed as soon as possible, usually the night of surgery, and to walk with assistance the next day. It is common for donors to experience gas pain and bloating after surgery; walking will help to expel the gas. You should be released from the hospital one or two days following surgery.

What should I expect during my recovery at home?

You will have to limit your activities and not lift more than 10 pounds during the first eight weeks. You may feel tired for the first two weeks after surgery and will need to rest. But we encourage you to be active in between periods of rest; walking is the best exercise during this time. You may also have some swelling around the incision area and should wear loose, comfortable clothes. You will likely be able to return to work two to three weeks after surgery, depending on the type of work you do. Some donors require a longer recovery period if their work requires heavy lifting or other physical demands.

What kind of follow-up do I need?

You will have a post-operative appointment with your surgeon one to two weeks after surgery. You will then have follow-up appointments at six months, one year and two years so our team can monitor your kidney function and overall health. After your two-year follow-up, you should have annual physicals with your primary care physician.

What emotions might I experience after surgery?

Most living donors say they feel significantly fulfilled by donating an organ because they have helped another person in such an impactful way. Our living donor team is available to you at all times to help your through your feelings and emotions. We have health-care professionals dedicated to easing you through the process and helping you every step of the way.

Who pays the medical costs for my donation?

Testing required for the living donor evaluation is typically covered by the recipient’s medical insurance. Our living donor coordinator and financial counselor will work closely with you to explain your financial responsibilities. For instance, all non-medical expenses, travel costs and daily living expenses that are incurred during the donation process are not covered by the Allegheny Health Network Transplant Institute. However, there are programs that may assist with these expenses.