Risks of Surgery

Living donation & COVID-19

Find answers about living donation during the COVID-19 outbreak here.

What are the risks of surgery?

It is quite normal for a donor and the donor's family to have fears and concerns about potential complications. This might be felt by some as reluctance to donate, yet it is natural reaction to a major surgery. Potential donors should speak openly with the transplant team about these fears. All conversations between the living donor and the transplant team and the results of medical testing will be kept confidential.
Both laparoscopic and open surgery has different benefits and risks, which potential donors should discuss with the transplant team.
The surgery involves the same level of risk for the donor as any other major surgery. The majority of complications following surgery are minor and may cause a longer hospitalization. The risks associated with surgery and donation should be discussed with your transplant team, and include:
  1. Pain. You will receive medication for pain after the surgery.
  2. Infection. An infection can delay the healing process or cause scarring or other problems. If the wound from the surgical incision becomes infected, it will be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections.
  3. Pneumonia. Surgery increases the risk for pneumonia (an inflammation of the lungs caused by bacteria or a virus). You will be asked to cough and breathe deeply during your recovery period. Taking a deep breath and coughing forces air to the bottom of your lungs, which helps to expand them and lessens your risk for pneumonia.
  4. Damage to the kidney. There is a possibility that the kidney could become damaged during the surgical procedure. Every attempt will be made to minimize this risk.
  5. Blood Clotting. You will be encouraged to move around as soon as you can after surgery. This will stimulate blood circulation to help prevent blood clots.
  6. Collapsed lung. The kidney is close to the lung, and the pleura (the space around the lung) may be inadvertently opened during surgery. If this happens, the lung may collapse. The doctors would then insert a tube into the chest to expand the lung.
  7. Urinary tract infection. This is an infection of the bladder or kidneys. It can be treated with antibiotics.
  8. Allergic reaction to anesthesia. Anesthetics are drugs that prevent pain. During the evaluation process, the transplant team will try to identify any allergies you might have. If you have an allergic reaction to anesthesia, the doctor will take immediate action to correct the problem.
  9. Death. There is always a risk of death with any major operation. However, the risk of death from surgery for living kidney donors is very low. Living donors undergo careful pre-operative testing and evaluation to make sure they are healthy enough for surgery. In one study of over 80,000 living kidney donors, death from surgery was 3.1 per 10,000 donors. This rate has not changed for the last 15 years.
Kidney Donation
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About NKF Cares
NKF Cares is a free, confidential hotline with trained professionals ready to answer your questions or concerns. Our peer-mentoring program, NKF PEERS, connects anyone affected by kidney disease with an informed and supportive mentor who has already been through the process.