Kidney Donation Surgery and Recovery

The standard surgical procedure to remove a kidney is called a laparoscopic donor nephrectomy. Laparoscopic surgery minimizes surgical incisions and reduces recovery time, and Mount Sinai was among the first in the nation to offer laparoscopic surgery for living donations. The decision of which kidney to remove is based on factors including each kidney’s size.

After general anesthesia is administered, the surgeon will make two-four small incisions through which he or she will disconnect the necessary blood vessels and ducts. A slightly larger incision will also be made through which the kidney will be removed. All incision sites will then be stitched closed. Patients are also given an IV through which fluids and medications can be administered. A urinary tube will also be inserted into the bladder following surgery to measure urine output.

The scars from a laparoscopic donor nephrectomy are minimal, consisting of two-four small scars where the laparoscopic ports were inserted, plus a scar for the incision through which the kidney was removed.

Recovery from Living Kidney Donation

The process of recovering from living kidney donor surgery usually follows these steps.

In the hospital: The first day after surgery you could be sore and slightly groggy. You may experience pain and some nausea as you are switched from IV to oral pain medication. Before leaving the hospital, you will be encouraged to walk a little. Donors can expect to remain in the hospital for one-two days.

At home: By the time you go home from the hospital you should start feeling yourself again. Following discharge, you will be given a prescription for oral pain medicine to take as needed. While you will be feeling noticeably better, you should expect to be moderately fatigued for up to several weeks. Once you return home, if you develop a fever or have drainage from your incision you should call the transplant office and speak to your nurse or doctor. You should shower daily, wash your incision with soap and water, and pat dry. You should eat a normal, healthy, well-rounded diet to improve healing.

For the first four weeks after surgery, you must not lift greater than 20 lbs. Otherwise, you are encouraged to slowly resume normal activity at your own pace, making sure that you walk daily and stay active. Most donors will be out of work for two-four weeks but not feel 100 percent normal for up to three-four months.

Post-surgery follow-ups: The living donor team will follow you closely as you recuperate. You will be seen two weeks after discharge to assess your condition and check your blood tests, then again at six weeks, six months, one year, and annually for two-five years. If you feel ill and need additional follow-up at any time, you should not hesitate to contact the transplant center.

Throughout the donation process, it is also important to keep your primary care physician aware of your progress and see him or her annually for check-ups. You should provide the donor team with your primary care physician’s contact information so that we may keep him or her fully informed of your care.

A Long-Term Relationship with Mount Sinai

At Mount Sinai, living donation doesn’t end with the donation. Donors can expect a long-term relationship with the Zweig Family Center, the RMTI, and Mount Sinai. This will include post-surgery follow-ups for the first year after the donation, as well as ready access to the RMTI team thereafter should any other concerns arise.

Long-term complications from living kidney donation are rare. Individuals only need one kidney to maintain optimal health; after surgery, the remaining kidney tends to increase in size to compensate for the loss of the other kidney. Additionally, living donors are screened in advance to make sure they are not at elevated risk for kidney disease in the future. This too helps ensure that that long-term complications are unlikely.

Even if feeling healthy, donors are encouraged to keep in touch and take advantage of donor wellness programs run by the Zweig Family Center.