Are You Afraid To Donate Your Kidney?

If you are like most people, the idea of donating your kidney is scary.

Even if you are healthy, you have beliefs about what problems “could” happen during or after surgery. Many people are fearful of later health problems and the unknown. You are normal. There are risks. This is scary.

Maybe there is also a trust issue? Some people don’t trust that the donor workup team has your best interest in mind? Or don’t trust they will be honest with you about the test results or your true risk.

No wonder there are 95,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list in need of one healthy kidney.

The Workup

Did you know that many people have been denied the ability to donate their kidney? They start the workup excited to help someone, and are later disappointed and sad that it didn’t work out. Some say it is difficult to donate because of the extensive tests, time, and sometimes barriers in the process.

It’s difficult to donate your kidney because there are specific guidelines doctors and nurses follow to minimize your risk of problems as much as possible. Many people help to be sure donating a kidney has a very low risk for you. It is not one person’s decision. Not even just yours. The transplant team and the donor must both say “YES” for the donation to take place. Without pressure from anyone. 

The health workup and tests determine your personal Kidney Health Risk, Surgical Risk, Psychosocial Risk, and Financial Risk. Your health is more important than donating. This is never just a medical decision or just your decision. It is a conscious, informed consent and team approval.

If you are at risk of having problems, no one wants you to donate your kidney! 

The Risk

Did you know that kidney donors live longer than the general population? 

Not because they donated, but because they are screened to be very healthy and a very low risk for problems. Here is the risk of donating a kidney from the perspective of the other risks.

Approximate odds of dying from:1 in:
Heart disease6
Kidney Disease60
Car crash100
Gallbladder surgery1,000
Kidney Donor Surgery3,000
Odds of kidney failure after kidney donation91,000
Airplane crash206,000
Train crash432,000

You choose. Just like having a baby, getting in the car, or flying in an airplane. Weigh the risks and benefits. 

Some people feel the fear and choose to donate anyway. They take the risk that they will live a healthy life with one kidney. Abigail Marsh describes this concept.

“… even while they empathize with others’ fear, they do not allow fear to flood their own system and prevent them from acting to help.

The Fear Factor How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, & Everyone In-Between, 2017

For support in exploring your fears or to find out more about living kidney donation, contact us at

Glenna Frey, APRN-CNS, is a nephrology nurse who donated her kidney in April 2017 to a stranger.
Amanda Frey, M.A., LMFT, LPC, is a Marriage & Family Therapist living with kidney disease.
Together, they co-founded Kidney Donor Conversations in 2018 to provide education about Living Kidney Donation.

Note: This was a challenge to gather the risk table. There was not a single reference for all of these items and reporting was done in different time periods. We rounded numbers for ease of reading and comparison. So use this as a general guide. In case you are wondering where COVID-19 falls, they are not able to calculate the risk yet since the numbers are still coming in.