There are 8 Living Kidney Donor Stages:
- Stage 1 is Idea is Sparked
- Stage 2 is Quiet Thinking
- Stage 3 is Active Exploring
- Stage 4 is Start Workup
- Stage 5 Full Workup
- Stage 6 Surgery
Mission accomplished! A healthy kidney was removed from a generous donor and placed into someone with kidney disease. But this journey is not over. As the donor, going from a very healthy person to having a major surgery requires an adjustment period for the body to heal. The recovery stage starts in the hospital after surgery and continues at home.
Stage 7 Recovery
On the day of surgery, after you wake up from the anesthesia, you will be taken from the recovery area to a room where you will stay until you are discharged from the hospital. You will be allowed to drink and possibly eat. The staff will be checking your blood pressure, oxygen level, giving pain medication, and measuring how much urine you are making. Depending on when and where you have pain, they will provide items to help you feel more comfortable. Examples may include warm blankets, pillows for positioning, a binder to support your incision, or a heating pad.
The nurse will likely have you get out of bed and sit in a chair the same day as surgery. It is important to walk many times a day to help prevent problems such as pneumonia or blood clots. Often, walking will help get rid of the uncomfortable gas that might be in your body from the surgery.
On the day after surgery, the tubes connected to you may be removed.
The oxygen tube in your nose is often removed first. The IV pain medicine will be changed to taking pills by mouth. The catheter in your bladder, draining your urine will come out. They will still be measuring your urine to make sure you can pee without any problems.
You can request updates on how your donated kidney and recipient are doing from your donor coordinator. If you and your recipient are in the same hospital and want to visit, this can be arranged. Often, the recipient is feeling better than the donor because they are going from a rather sick state to a more healthy state with a working kidney. This meeting is often joyful and a relief that after months and months of planning, the kidney has reached its new home and is hopefully making urine.
The average time in the hospital for a donor is two to three days.
If everything is going as planned, you might be discharged the day after surgery. If more time is needed for recovery, it is common for donors to stay longer.
A little drainage at the incision is normal and a small bandage may be needed. If there is no drainage, typically, the dressing can be taken off and showering is allowed once you are home.
Even though prescription pain medications may be provided for a few days, within a week most donors only need over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen.
During this recovery period, feeling very tired and taking naps throughout the day is normal and expected. You may not feel like eating much but your appetite should come back with time. The body has gone through a surgical procedure, so it will take some time to heal from the inside.
Clear, light yellow urine is typically a sign that you are getting enough fluids.
You will likely be peeing more often. That is normal as your single kidney is adjusting to doing all of the work on its own. You may have to get up and pee several times at night. This schedule should eventually return to normal with time.
Many people find that as they pee more, they need to drink more also. It is important to keep your body well hydrated for the health of your single kidney.
Walking is the best exercise you can do for yourself.
Walking every day is important and you can gradually increase your walking distance as your tolerance increases. No heavy lifting over ten pounds is allowed until you see your doctor again and they give the okay for you to lift more.
Driving is not recommended for about two weeks. Many people are back to work within 4-6 weeks after surgery. This will depend on your personal recovery and how strenuous the job is you are returning to. Some donors need more time away from work. Talking with the donor team and your employer is the best way to determine when it is safe for you to return.
Follow-up visits with your donor team are important.
Typically, you will be scheduled to return to talk with your donor surgeon and donor coordinator around 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years after surgery. Some centers may have you on a slightly different schedule. They will want to check your kidney function, make sure your incision is healing, and address any other concerns you might have.
You should reach out to your donor team with any problems or concerns after you are home between scheduled visits. If you have any trouble getting in touch with our coordinator or doctor, keep trying. It is important that your concerns are addressed in a timely manner.
The recovery goal for donors is to return to work and your prior activity level with one healthy kidney as you enter the next and final stage, Stage 8 Life After Donating.
Want to learn more?
Future posts of the “Living Kidney Donor Conversations: Breaking the Silence” series will provide you with general guidelines of what the journey looks like, even though every individual situation is unique. Get ready for more of this living kidney donor adventure! Stage 8 is next.
Previous posts in the “Living Kidney Donor Conversations: Breaking the Silence” series can be found here:
- Stage 1 – Idea is Sparked
- Stage 2 – Quiet Thinking
- Stage 3 – Active Exploring
- Stage 4 – Start Workup
- Stage 5 – Full Workup
- Stage 6 Surgery
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.