There are few things as selfless and significant as choosing to donate a kidney.
Many may consider donation for a friend, family member or stranger in need of a new organ, but questions surrounding cost, insurance coverage and potential health risks can discourage some from donating—and overwhelm or confuse others seeking answers.
We asked University of Minnesota Health Transplant Surgeon Arthur Matas, MD; Transplant Coordinator Anne Lecuyer-Koich, RN; and Social Worker Jennifer Wiseman, MSW, to help address some common concerns about the kidney transplant process.
University of Minnesota Health is home to one of the oldest and most successful organ transplantation programs in the world. We have cared for more than 4,600 living organ donors.
After the six-week recovery period following surgery, there are no restrictions on activity or diet for donors. Donors do not have to take any long-term medications as a result of organ donation. Donors often experience an emotional benefit related to the transplant, according to Matas. National Institutes of Health studies have shown that 95 percent of donors rated their experience as “excellent” and would choose to donate again if they could.
“Seeing a loved one gain health because of a donor’s contribution creates a strong sense of internal satisfaction,” Matas said.
The recipient of a living kidney donation sees significant improvements in his or her quality of life. He or she is not required to submit to dietary and/or lifestyle restrictions, and no longer needs routine dialysis. Living donor transplants experience better long-term survival rates and organ function than those who receive deceased donor transplants.
Kidney donation surgery, like many other major surgeries, carries a small risk of bleeding, blood clots, infection, hernia development or other potentially life-threatening complications. Long-term risks include high blood pressure, proteinuria and organ impairment.
Unlike other surgical procedures, which typically improve the patient’s medical condition, kidney donation is an elective surgery that carries no physical benefit for the donor, said Anne Lecuyer Koich, RN. This is why it is important to consider the donor’s physical risk and emotional preparedness before the surgery. Healthy donors may need six to eight weeks for full recovery, though the average hospital stay including the procedure is typically a few days.
The recipient’s healthcare insurer pays for the donor’s evaluation, transplant surgery and post-surgical care, said Anne Lecuyer-Koich.
Yes. People eligible to donate can give to friends, family or anyone they are interested in helping. In addition, they can even offer to donate to any patient on the waiting list, even if that person is not known by the donor. This is called a “non-directed” kidney donation. University of Minnesota Health experts recently performed our 100th non-directed donation transplant. We are a national leader in both the quantity of these procedures and their outcomes.
“Our living kidney donor team will help assess your overall health, both physical and mental, in making a determination if living kidney donation is safe and right for you,” said Wiseman.