Potential Risks

Living donation involves anesthesia and major surgery and their associated risks. As with any major operation, there are risks involved. For example, all patients experience some pain and discomfort after a surgical procedure. Although each situation is different, donors typically have a rapid and uneventful post-operative course. The first twenty-four hours after surgery, the donor is usually sleepy and tired, a natural reaction to surgery and anesthesia.

It is possible for kidney donors to develop infections or bleeding. Other surgical complications can include pain, infection, blood loss (requiring transfusions), blood clots, allergic reactions to anesthesia, pneumonia, injury to surrounding tissue or other organs and even death.

Please note that there has been no national systematic long-term data collection on the risks associated with living organ donation. Based upon limited information that is currently available, overall risks are considered to be low, but risks can differ among donors.

Some possible risks of kidney donation may include high blood pressure (hypertension); large amounts of protein in the urine; hernia; organ impairment or failure that leads to the need for dialysis or transplantation; and even death. There may be other medical risks for organ donation surgery since there are limited data about long-term complications and since each donor’s surgery and recovery experience is unique.

Psychological Risks

In addition to potential individual health concerns, it is possible for negative psychological consequences to result from living donation.

Negative psychological symptoms are possible during the healing process and even years after the donation. For example, depression and anxiety after donation are common concerns and often attributed to the healing process of surgery, renewed family demands and an attention shift from the donor onto the recipient. As a result, you may have feelings of regret, resentment, or anger.

Scarring or other aspects of the donation process could possibly contribute to problems with body image, and as with any transplant, there is also the risk that the recipient will have problems such as infection, rejection of the organ or even death. For a living donor, the news of such problems can be devastating. Treatment for these conditions can be lengthy, costly, and could possibly include the use of medications with their own risks and side effects.

Positive Aspects of Living Donation

On the positive side, the gift of an organ can save the life of a transplant candidate. The experience of providing this special gift to a person in need can serve as a very positive aspect of the donation. Some donors have reported positive emotional experiences, including feeling good about improving another person’s life. Transplants can greatly improve recipients’ health and quality of life, allowing them to return to normal activities. They can spend more time with family and friends, do more physical activities, and pursue interests and hobbies.

A living donor makes it possible to schedule the transplant at a time that is convenient for the donor and the transplant candidate. Better genetic matches between living donors and recipients may decrease the risk of organ rejection. In addition, kidneys from living donors usually work immediately in recipients in comparison to kidneys from deceased donors.

A living donor also removes a candidate from the national transplant waiting list, which currently includes more than 100,000 people. Based upon the most recent OPTN data, about 11% of kidney candidates added to the waiting list in 2007 received a kidney within one year. About a third of candidates added to the waiting list in 2003 received a kidney within five years. In 2008, more than 4,500 kidney transplant candidates died while waiting on the list.

For Additional Information

If you have a question about Living Donor transplants at Crozer Health, email kidney@crozer.org or call 610-619-8420.

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