During and After Kidney Surgery for Donors

When you get the green light from your doctor to donate one of your kidneys to someone in need, it is helpful to understand what happens during surgery and what recovery will be like. Here is a quick look at the details of the operation and what to expect after the procedure.


Having a nephrectomy


A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of a kidney. There are a couple of methods: a laparoscopic nephrectomy and an open nephrectomy.


Laparoscopic nephrectomy is minimally invasive. It uses a wand-like camera called a laparoscope to view the abdominal cavity. The kidney is removed through a small incision just under your waistline. Laparoscopic surgery may take a shorter time than an open nephrectomy.


In an open nephrectomy, an incision is made in the abdomen. The ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder) is cut between the bladder and the kidney, and blood vessels are cut and clamped before the kidney is removed. The incision is closed with stitches or staples. The procedure can take up to three hours.


Recovering after the nephrectomy


A kidney donor is typically required to stay in the hospital for two to seven days, depending on the type of nephrectomy performed and donor’s rate of recovery. Your health care team will carefully monitor your kidney function, blood pressure, electrolytes and fluid balance during your stay. 


Every kidney donor recovers at a different rate. Talk with your doctor to determine an appropriate activity level during recovery. Your doctor will likely not recommend any heavy lifting for six weeks following the surgery. Before you even have surgery, ask family or friends if they can help you with certain tasks around your home while you recover.


A post-operative follow-up will occur within 30 days just to make certain that you are recovering well.  Another follow-up evaluation typically occurs six to nine months after the surgery. A nephrologist will check your kidney function through blood work and a urine sample.


Life after donating a kidney


Kidney donors can live long, healthy lives. It is important that you alert all your doctors and pharmacists about the donation, and have regular appointments to monitor blood pressure and kidney function. For most kidney donors, as long as they exercise and maintain a healthy weight, there should be no need for dietary restrictions. Consult your doctor regarding any dietary restrictions that may apply for you.


Your remaining kidney will eventually grow in size to compensate for the missing kidney, but it is often recommended that you avoid contact sports. Talk with your doctor about which activities you can participate in safely.


Giving the gift of life to a person in need


Having a surgical procedure may alter some things in your life, but to help give life by becoming a kidney donor can be very rewarding. You are providing a person the chance to live without the help of dialysis. If you are thinking about changing a person’s life by becoming a living donor, go to the National Kidney Registry®. If you prefer to be a donor after you pass away, you can do so by signing up at OrganDonor.gov.