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It is important that anyone considering donating a kidney is aware of the risks involved. 

Firstly let me say that altruistic donation (the operation and recovery etc) is no different to someone donating to a loved one. Here are some statistics *.

In the UK between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010:

  • 3,709 organ transplants were carried out, thanks to the generosity of 2,021 donors.
  • 978 lives were saved in the UK through a heart, lung, liver or combined heart/lungs, liver/kidney, liver/pancreas, heart/kidney or liver/kidney/pancreas transplant.
  • A total of 2,739 patients’ lives were dramatically improved by a kidney or pancreas transplant. 160 of whom received a combined kidney/pancreas transplant.
  • A further 3,099 people had their sight restored through a cornea transplant.
  • A record number of 552 non-heartbeating donor kidney transplants took place and accounted for one in five of all kidney transplants.
  • Living donor kidney transplants are increasing – 475 in 2004-05, 589 in 2005-06, 690 in 2006-07, 831 in 2007-08, 927 in 2008-09 and 1,038 in 2009-10 – and now represent more than one in three of all kidney transplants.
  • Almost a million more people pledged to help others after their death by registering their wishes on the NHS Organ Donor Register, bringing the total to 17,400,213(September 2010).
  •  

As you can see from the above, more than 1 in 3 kidney transplants are via living donors.  There may only have been a small amount of altruistic donors so far, but the law allowing that only came into force at the end of 2006.

Did you know that a kidney transplant from a deceased person – the kidney has a life expectancy of only around 10 years. A kidney transplant from a Living Donor – the kidney has a life expectancy of around 20 years!

Yes there are risks involved. There are in any operation.  What must be pointed out though is the doctors would not allow this operation to take place on any individual if the risks were not minimal. The rigorous tests a donor is put through prior to being accepted as a donor makes sure they are very fit and healthy.  It was explained to me that a reaction to the anaesthetic could occur. Something unexpected could occur during the operation itself.  This is very unlikely but no operation is without some risk however small.  There could be post op complications but again, very minimal and doctors are on top of watching out for any complications. It is also up to the donor that once they leave hospital to make sure they take care of themselves during recovery and seek advice from a doctor should they suspect anything unusual.  Regular checks after the operation will ensure kidney function is performing as it should. 

Immediately after the operation there is a small risk of chest infection, being a non smoker certainly reduces that risk …. but it can happen after any operation, even though the risks are small.  A blood clot could form – again very unlikely.  I asked what precautions are taken to prevent blood clots and was told that my bloods ability to clot was tested before hand. That for the operation I would wear these special long socks – anti-embolism stockings (do a google but I am not sure if they are full length ones or below knee ones).  Some special calf wraps that gently compress the lower leg to aid blood circulation.  I would be given heparin to thin the blood slightly. I would be constantly monitored.  More details on the above can be given by any Transplant unit or your doctor.

As for living with only one kidney afterwards that does not present a problem to me.   The remaining kidney will slightly enlarge as it takes on some extra work.  There is no reason why I can’t go back to a totally normal life afterwards.  Very active people have donated and carried on with an active life afterwards just as before. Some people are born with only one kidney but don’t know it. They feel perfectly well with just one. I am no more likely to get kidney disease becuase I only have one kidney.  Generally a kidney problem would affect both kidneys, so having one would present no greater risk.  Playing a contact sport (boxing, rugby etc) where a blow could occur to a kidney should be avoided if possible or a protective belt worn. I don’t think I am likely to take up one of those sports! …. me = wimp!   After the operation the GFR levels do drop slightly then then rise again.  There can be slightly less function with one kidney but one has to remember that we have a surplus of available “function” that is never used. So a slight drop in function and the kidney still works just as good as before. There is an extra risk of hypertension occuring later in life but a good and healthy lifestyle is the rule to follow.  I had all the risks thoroughly explained to me and I asked many questions relating to them. I also did a lot of research myself as to what complications donors have had. Some have had nerve pain for a while afterwards, digestion problems and other things that with time disappeared. Every answer given was more than acceptable to me as a very lo risk indeed.   With only one kidney drinking sufficient amounts of water each day is helpful. If possible NSAID’s should be avoided as they “may” cause a problem for the kidney.  Normally with two kidneys not a great problem but when you only have one then perhaps being that little bit more aware of what does or does not go into our bodies should be considered.  There can also be a huge emotional surge within us. Some people have told me they got quite bad depression, rather like post natal depression that lasted many weeks. If that happens to you, don’t just take it. Ask for help in dealing with it.

To me there is a greater risk each time I get into my car and go on the road where I am likely to come across drivers with no licenses, drivers under the influence, drivers that are just plain bad drivers. They don’t wear stickers on their cars saying “avoid me”. Yet I choose to take that risk.    People who smoke know they are taking a huge risk and putting  their health at risk.  People who regularly go out and drink excessively…. they know they are damaging their health, yet still do it!  People climb huge mountains; jump out of airplanes;  take part in extreme sports – they love the adrenaline rush and the challenge, yet know there are risks.   They are hailed as amazing people for achieving these things – yes they are – they have far more courage than I do. We all do things, knowing the risks, accepting them – yet the risks involved in donating a kidney to me are far far far less than a lot of those risks. 

* Statistics taken from here   http://www.uktransplant.org.uk/ukt/statistics/statistics.jsp
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89 Responses to “Living with one kidney – Living kidney donation – risks explained”

  • Diane:

    Hi Tony,
    lol .. and now keyhole is the norm ….

    cheers
    Di

  • wayne:

    Hi I am thinking of donating a kidney to a friend about to start on dialisis,we are both in our sixties.Ive previously had my prostate removed so I am familiar with recovery from major surgery.What I am concerned about is the long term affects on my body,I eat healthy and exercise alot.Is their any research on this. thanks Wayne

  • Diane:

    Hi Wayne,
    Different surgeries can have different recovery times and recovery effects. But the hospital will tell you what to expect as far as short term after effects of the surgery.

    As far as research on only one kidney, I assume you read the post to which you are replying …as you can see living with one kidney does not affect you. People are born with only one kidney and don’t know it until they have to have an mri for something or similar and it gets noticed only one kidney. I even know someone who put themselves forward to donate and was turned down as they only had one kidney but they didnt know .. they would run the London and New York Marathon each year.

    Yes lots of research would have gone into this otherwise they would not allow people to donate to total strangers if there was any long term health issues associated with kidney removal.

    Of course there can be complications with the operation itself which could lead to long term problems but those you would have to discuss with the transplant coordinator.

    As well as eating healthily make sure you also always drink enough water as the kidneys whether one or two , need water to help flush the toxins through.

    Any long term affect would be personal to that person so really only your transplant coordinator and the team can answer that 100% for you. But in general no long term bad effects from donating a kidney.

    Di

  • Lyle:

    Sooooo, just a question, why do we have two kidneys, so we can donate one later..?? A legit question.. We don’t need two lungs either, but I assume we have two because as we age our lung capacity lessens and having two leaves some room for that.. I guess the same could be said for kidneys, but what do I know..

  • Diane:

    Hi Lyle,
    That is a very good question indeed and I am not sure anyone knows the answer. But isn’t it good that we can give one away! Maybe that was partly behind the design of our body! :) Our kidneys do not function to full capacity. My left worked at 58% and my right at 42% – I gave my right one away. you can lose about 85-90% of total kidney function before dialysis is required. So even with one kidney under performing, so to speak, it is still doing the job it should. When one is removed the other takes on some extra, but not all. So I presume my remaining kidney is now functioning at say 60% plus? A question I will ask at my next check up in a few months time!! It is not uncommon for someone to be born with either one kidney or three kidneys!

    No we don’t need two lungs either. Though I am not sure whether a person with only one lung would notice the difference or not. But as you say … we can do without one. Our liver, another amazing organ. Regrows … so we can donate a lobe of it and in about 12 weeks time it has grown again.

    Maybe we need two lungs because we get lots of chest infections, colds etc and rather than have one huge lung :) two smaller ones evenly balance the upper chest nicely and also allows for one to take more strain than the other? who knows!! The kidneys work exceptionally hard removing toxins and the liver also works exceptionally hard. In todays society when there are so many pollutants we either knowingly, or unknowingly, put into our bodies our organs need to work that bit extra perhaps …. so having two lungs, two kidneys and a regrowing liver – is a good idea, lol!!

    Makes you wonder why we don’t have two hearts!!

    I love your question, it is one I have often asked myself. I doubt anyone can give a provable answer, we can only guess. But what I do know is, whatever the reason, it means we can help save someone’s life by giving a kidney, lobe of liver and even part of a lung.

    I just wish people would sign the organ donor register. It saddens me greatly to know people are dying needlessly (sp?) and organs are being buried or burned. Such a waste.

    If you ever find an answer to your question I think there will be a lot of people interested in the answer!! until then we can only guess.

    I suppose if you look at a diagram of the body, it does look rather neatly laid out with two lungs either side, same with two kidneys then the heart and liver sort of stuffed in between :) then all balanced out with the entry and exit points at either end !

    Di
    x

  • wayne mcconachy:

    Hi Diane,just to keep intouch,I have since last enquiry decided to go ahead with donating a kidney.Two days ago I discussed this with the recipient and he was over the moon at my decision.Now I am starting the process to see if I am a compatible donor.
    My final decision to donate was made after speaking to a friend who had donated to his son.
    yours Wayne

  • Diane:

    Hi Wayne,
    You won’t regret your decision. I am praying that you will be compatible. Please do let me know how things progress.
    All the very best!
    Di
    x

  • Joanna:

    I’d be interested to know whether any random (a word I prefer to altruistic!) living kidney donors have had any problems with travel insurance post-surgery? I’m going through the work up, hoping to donate a kidney in the next few months and have wondered whether this issue has come up with any of you.
    Joanna

  • Diane:

    Hi Joanna,
    ummm, can’t say I class myself as a random donor, sounds like I have been picked out of a hat opposed to wanting to help someone I dont know simply because I can! Non-directed is the term you are using for if you don’t like the accepted term altruistic.

    I was charged extra for travel insurance, though not by much. My private health insurance they have made a note that I donated a kidney but did not put any exclusions on the policy or charge me extra – and I have heard of some people in the USA having problems with health insurance but they have been in the minority. Your best bet on this is to contact a variety of insurance companies and ask them.

    All the best
    Di
    x

  • A J:

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences Di. Posted thanks over a year ago when we were first entered into a paired exchange pool. Hopefully not jinxing it by posting but hopefully had the final meeting today with the independent assessor after a real emotional rollercoaster. Thanks again.

  • Diane:

    Hi AJ,
    Thanks for posting and giving me an update. I always love to hear how people are getting on with the donation process. Yours is just around the corner now …. exciting times. Can imagine the emotional roller coaster trip ….. if you ever want to share please do either here or contact me direct via the contact page (link top right of page).

    Let us know when you get a date and know more
    All the best
    Di
    x

  • sara shayovitz:

    Hi Di
    Just updating you as I emailed you several months ago. Now on the register waiting to donate altruistically. I have found your blog informative and amusing at times. I share your frustration at waits and quite slow progress of whole journey. However it also reassured me that this is not unusual,problem is I like driving fast!
    Will let you know if you would like, when I have had op.
    Are you ever informed on progress of recipient?
    Best Wishes
    Sara

  • Diane:

    Hi Sara,
    Thank you for updating me. You are almost there – any day now! Yes please I would like to hear how you get on, very much so!
    recipient – I was told a couple of day after that the kidney seemed to be doing fine. Around a month later I got a letter form my recipient. It was sent to me via the hospital as of course names and addresses are not allowed and they were removed from the correspondence. But my recipient said how great they now felt. So tht was brilliant. I didn’t hear any more and that was fine, I was just happy I could donate.
    Keep in touch,
    love Di
    x

  • A J:

    Op was Tuesday morning and hopefully getting home later today. Will share more when I’m on a computer and not my phone, but kidney received in the paired exchange for my friend is function well and my recovery has been very positive. An amazing experience!

  • Diane:

    Brilliant news AJ. Looking forward to hearing more.
    Di
    x

  • Jane ,:

    I’m going to the independent assessor tomorrow (Thursday). This has been going on for 15 months now as I have had both bladder & kidney biopsies because of a minuscule amount of blood in my urine. No problems were found so hopefully everything will go ahead now rather more quickly. I share your frustration at the attitude of some people to donation, even refusing to give blood though they would not refuse to receive it if necessary! I work for a very large company so when it is all done & dusted I am hoping to write an article about it for our company mag. If I can get just a couple of people to think about donating I will feel that I have done a good job. People as “that’s amazing, what a terrific thing to do” but to my mind it is a simple thing to do. I will go through an amount of discomfort, be monitored for the rest of my life and will have hopefully gained a few brownie points with him up there! The real heroes in life are those who day in & day out care for disabled children or adults with Altzheimers, I could not do that for any money, all praise to them.

  • Diane:

    Hello Jane,
    Thanks for posting. That miniscule amount of blood could have meant something was badly wrong with you and it would have been found way before you felt ill with it. Great to hear they [NHS] are doing such a great job, very reassuring.

    I can understand some people not wanting to give blood. It can be very scary having a needle stuck in your arm and seeing your blood seeping out into a tube. A lot of people are scared of organ donation, lots of myths floating around that put people off. And again there are people that just don’t want to.

    There are lots of heroes around. Those that care for people with Altzheimers, dementia, bedridden people, dialysis patients – the list is endless, isn’t it – so many wonderful people around.

    Yes doing an article for your company magazine would be great, get people thinking. I assume you are a non-directed donor – just have at the back of your mind not to publicly give away any clue as to when you donate – the recipients privacy is paramount and with so few donors, their identity could be found out.

    Hope all goes well with the IA – do post and let us know.
    All the very best
    Di
    x

  • Jane ,:

    Good advice about the identity of the recipient, I had not thought of that although nothing will be done until after the procedure, thank you. You are very tolerant regarding the blood doning, this is why I could never be one of the heroes, I would like all healthy people who are able to donate, but then I would like to win the lottery & that ain’t going to happen either!! Donation of an organ, be it altruistic (me) or directed is obviously a little more involved. In a strange sort of way I am looking forward to it, not excited as such, but a definite feeing of anticipation.

  • Diane:

    Hi Jane,
    I think life events have taught me to be far more tolerant than I used to be – I think when you get wrongly judged yourself for something, you realise perhaps your own “judging” is not quite as valid as it should be, as not always are things as they appear :) . Oooh join the queue for winning the lottery. Actually I got notified I had a win the other day and got all excited – £5.60 – but as I said to the dog “better than a slap in the face” :) – but what would life be without hopes and dreams.

    You may find the nearer to donation you get the more excited you will get. I know the night before the operation all I could think about was what was the recipient doing/thinking, I could imagine just how excited yet scared they would be. I said so many prayers for them. I did sleep like a log though waking fresh and oh so excited. On the day I felt like a kid at Christmas, I was so excited I just couldn’t stop talking. I think my family were glad when they took me away for the surgery!

    Keep in touch, would like to know how you get on.
    Di
    x

  • Jane ,:

    Had a long chat with the assessor, what a lovely man, we sorted the country out and decided that we should become the new script writers for The Archers, Oh and we had a chat about kidney donation too! His report will now go to the Human Tissue people so hopefully the date should be forthcoming.

  • Diane:

    Hi Jane,
    Great glad to hear it all went okay. Usually it only takes a few working days before the HTA give their response. Once a recipient has been located then a date can be defo fixed, although the hospital may provisionally put some dates to you. Just remember not to publicise the date of donation when eventuallly you get to know it as the privacy of the recipient has to be respected. All getting exciting now :)
    Thanks for posting
    Di
    x

  • Jane ,:

    Getting a bit frustrated now, I’ve had a call from the transplant nurse who tells me that it will take about two weeks for the Human Tissue Authority to OK the deal then more blood tests to match with the recipient, all in all probably about another six or so weeks. Cannot quite come to terms with the ponderous way the NHS works.

  • Diane:

    Hi Jane
    That is quite normal. All depending how many cases the HTA has to review it can be between 1 and 2 working day weeks. They have to have more than one member get together to review each case individually.

    Once your details are checked against potential recipients on the list it could be a week before you know, as the recipients hospital have to contact them, make sure they are still in a situatio where they can have a transplant.

    Matching your blood with theirs is done on the same day, so both hospitals have to be in a position to be able to do this. The blood is matched to see if the recipients antibodies reject your blood or not. If it does, then it is likely the kidney will be rejected, so another recipient has to be matched.

    Both hospitals have to liaise re operation date and within 2 weeks prior to hte operation you have to have a pre assessment at the hospital.

    It takes time. 4-6 weeks is acceptable when one considers all that has to be done. With myself it was the third potential recipient that was a match with me. It took around 2 months for that to happen and nearly three months between HTA approval and actual donation. It could not be speeded up. With one potential recipient their hospital could not check the bloods for 2 weeks for some reason. Then second recipient the match was borderline, so I had to go back to give a second lot of blood as they wanted to do more testing. Then there was a third potential recipient … There is no way to guarantee that the first potential match will actually be the recipient you donate to.

    This is such a critical time, once you have been approved and a recipiednt has to be matched with you. It cannot happen overnight.

  • Jane ,:

    You talk so much sense. You quite put me to shame. I have always been impatient, wanting everything to be done yesterday and the only other time I have had dealings with hospitals was having my gall bladder out a few years ago. That was done privately via works insurance so was very quick and efficient. I have now given myself a good talking to and will try to wait patiently until I hear something, after all I’ve managed to wait since March 2012 so a bit longer probably won’t hurt. I’ll post again when I hear something

  • David:

    I am 44 years old, do not smoke, I’m completely healthy, viral infections have relocated. I have the 0(-) blood group. I have a serious financial problems, it is urgent to be solved is why I decided to become a kidney donor. It’s not for money. I’m trying to save my family. I hope you help me. Sincerely David. .

  • Diane:

    Hello David,
    I am really sorry to hear of your financial problems. It is not an easy time for a lot of people these days. Unfortunately the buying/selling of organs in the UK and other European countries is illegal, so we won’t be able to help you. If you sell your kidney on the black market then you seriously risk death or serious complications resulting in hospitalisation and perhaps medication etc for life. None of those operations take place with a reputable surgeon or in properly sanitised theatres etc. What use would you be to your family should something seriously go wrong, and believe me it does?

    I hope you find another solution to your problems. The main thing is to stay together as a family and not take any risks that could jeopardise that.

    I wish you all the best and hope life turns around for you.
    God Bless
    Di
    x

  • David:

    I agree to death. I am tired already. I have helped people around me all my life. If I can help other people and put my family movashoreb problem, I agree even with lethal outcome. I think it was better than suicide.

  • David:

    Sorry, Google translation.

  • Diane:

    Hi David,
    I am sure your family would not agree with you. Selling a kidney does not mean you will die, just that there is a higher risk of it. More so you could be left with terrible pain for years, infections, seriously ill and needing looking after. What good is that to your family? Your family love you and want you – regardless. I don’t know if you believe in God or not, but if you do, draw on Him for your strength to get through these bad times emotionally. There is always hope and who knows what is around the corner of life. Giving up is not an option. I wish you luck. Be strong for your family – stick together regardless and love eachother all you can and stay being a whole family.
    God Bless
    Di
    x

  • David:

    Thank you for your warm words of Diana. A good and humane one. Please understand, it does not matter to me whether or not to continue life. The main thing is that this kidney donation to continue this human life, and at the same time to solve the problems of my family … My family did not agree, but it’s my decision. This is not a dilemma for me. I am ready for everything. I have worked since 1985, most recently worked for many years in the country’s security service, I am electrical engineer, chief position. Military rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I am retired from the military. More than anything I gave to my family and financial problems. I hate lies and liars.

  • Diane:

    David,
    It may not matter to you – but it does matter to your family. This is a big move and should be a family decision. So why can you not get a job with the qualifications you have? Can you not get work in a different larger town perhaps? yes I too hate lies and liars.
    Regards
    Di

  • David:

    Dear Diana, I am now working as an Internet Service Provider, I am trabelshuter. I have a military pension money. My wife Ketaven Jariashvili is a scientist, Doctor of Biological Sciences, his work has been published in many magazines and is now working with the Ministry of Environment, Nuclear and Radiation Safety Department. Our monthly fees are just too much, it amounts to about $ 2400, which is a very large sum of money because of the amount of our income is about $ 1100, my first wife, who was chronically ill and two children 22 and 16 years, are under my patronage. My older daughter is a student at the University and is a bachelor. But in addition to working on his salary of $ 200. Soon we will lose our house because of debts, my mother has a damaged heart valves and surgical operation is required, the father of stroke. We have two children 2 and 3 years old. Dear Diana, I have this situation. Long-term low-interest loan for a large sum of money is needed to solve these problems that our banks do not have. Abnormal and less human rules to banks. So I decided to be a donor, and I do not regret. Everything is God’s will. Sincerely David

  • Diane:

    Okay so your monthly bills are £2,400 and you both earn together $1,100. If you sell a kidney, what then? You will still earn less than your outgoings and will before long be back to square one, minus a kidney. With your qualifications and your wife’s can either or both of you not get a better paying job abroad?
    Di

  • David:

    My wife worked in the laboratory of New Jersey, under the auspices of NATO. He participated in conferences around the world and have received grants. He is the owner of the 2009 and 2010 presidential scholarship for young scientists. I do not know how much money they are paying black market in organ donation. I have e-mailed to a single such entity and told me 150 thousand dollars, which I think is a lie. Another person e-mailed to me 25-35 thousand. I think it’s more realistic. This 2400 is a debt interest. In total it is 60 thousand. If I had the money I will be able to repay the debt, it will not have to pay 2400 per month and my salary and pension, and my wife’s salary is enough, especially when I’m going to claim the top positions. I have only one problem – I do not know English. I still really do not have the nerves to learn English. Georgia could not hold a senior position if you do not know English. Georgian may not know)). Sincerely David

  • Diane:

    I can understand why you want to do this. I am not judging you negatively. I worry about you. Worry something would go wrong. I am just trying to think of other things you can do to get your debts paid off. All I can say if you are going ahead with this, is be careful who you choose and who does the operation. There are liars out there, as you know who will take your kidney and not give money. I cannot say I agree with this, as I don’t but I respect your decision to find out about it.

    Do try and learn English, just think of the benefits if you both did. There is no rush, take your time. I can help you if you get stuck.

    I guessed you did not speak English with some of the funny translation google made :)

    Keep in touch
    All the best
    Di

  • David:

    Dear Diana, thank you very much. I am submitting amendments to the writings of the Russian and then translate it in English. That’s why I write in English so beautiful) I wrote my e-mail and will not be published here. I do not know what will happen tomorrow. I am glad that I have a new friend

  • Diane:

    David, you, or your wife, can always contact me direct. Just use the “contact” link top right of this page. It will come direct to me and I can then let you have my email address.
    All the best
    Di

  • Diane:

    Oh by the way…. google did this translation for you ” I am trabelshuter.” ….. trabelshuter? :) made me smile. I “think” google should have said “trouble shooter” ?
    all the best
    Di

  • David:

    ))) This hot line when broadband Internet subscribers are helping a number of technical problems, which are connected to the internet modem, wireless Internet and computers in their work to solve the problem. It’s a pleasure to help people who are calling you on the hot line and ask for help. Meanwhile, those of us who have no idea that what they are asking for help, is much larger and has serious problems. As they say the French — selavi)

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