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Transplant from a living donor

What happens when you get a kidney from a living donor?

The donor and patient are admitted to the hospital the morning of the day of the surgery. Both surgeries take place at the same time and take several hours.

How to prepare for living donor transplant surgery

One  of the benefits of living donor transplant is that you, your donor, and the transplant teams will be able to schedule the surgery at a time that works for you and your living donor.

Scheduling your surgery allows you to:

  • Plan for time away from work
  • Arrange childcare
  • Plan transportation to and from the hospital
  • Prepare for your hospital stay, such as pack a bag and collect important papers, like insurance information.

If your living donor is a family member, there may be more steps to take as you prepare for surgery. Watch this video to help you think about what steps you need to take.

The transplant surgery

icon for kidney transplant from live donor

From the time you’re waiting for surgery to begin, all the way to waking up in recovery, the whole process takes about 4-8 hours.

Before the surgery:

  1. You will arrange the surgery date ahead of time.
  2. You’ll do any tests you need 1-2 weeks before surgery.
  3. You’ll come in the morning of the surgery at about the same time as your donor.
  4. In the hospital, your transplant team will ask you many questions to prepare you for surgery.
  5. They may also do a dialysis treatment if you need one.
  6. Doctors will put an IV in your vein.
  7. Doctors will retest the kidney to make sure it’s a match before surgery. This is called a crossmatch.
  8. You will go into the operating room, where a nurse will explain what will happen. Then, an anesthesiologist will meet with you and discuss the anesthesia. An anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives you medicines to put you to sleep and prevent pain during the surgery.
  9. After you’re asleep, your doctor will put a catheter in your bladder, which is a small tube to collect urine after surgery.

During the surgery: (surgery takes 3-4 hours)

  1. You will be under general anesthesia, which will put you to sleep and prevent pain.
  2. A machine will help you breathe well during surgery.
  3. Doctors make a cut in your lower belly to put in your new kidney.
  4. Doctors will place the kidney into your body through this cut.
  5. They connect your new kidney to your bladder.
  6. The new kidney starts making urine, often during the surgery.
  7. A tube will help drain urine from your bladder for a few days after surgery.

After the surgery:

  1. Doctors will take you to the recovery room or intensive care unit (ICU) after surgery. Nurses and doctors will watch you carefully and give you IV fluids and pain medicines. You will also get anti-rejection medicines right away.
  2. The day after surgery, your transplant team will have you sitting in a chair and walking to help avoid problems from the surgery. You won’t be able to eat for a few days after surgery.
  3. After about 2-4 days, your doctors will fine-tune your medicines so you can go home.
  4. Sometimes a kidney takes several hours to several days to start working. You may need dialysis until it starts working.
  5. After you go home, your doctors keeps a careful watch over you with checkups and labs tests to make sure the kidney works well and there are no signs of rejection or infection. This can be a few times a week at first and then less often as time goes on.

When you wake up from your surgery, you may:

  • Feel pain near the cuts from your surgery until they heal
  • Feel like you need to urinate (pee) often or very strongly for a few days if you didn’t urinate often before your transplant
  • Have trouble passing stool (poop) and need medicines to help

When you go home from the hospital

icon for kidney transplant from live donor

By the time you go home from the hospital, you will start to feel like yourself again. You’ll have pain medicines and may feel tired and weak for several weeks.

When you go home:

  • Shower daily, wash your incision with soap and water, and pat dry
  • Eat normal, healthy meals
  • Start your normal activities at your own pace, making sure that you walk daily and stay active
    • Avoid lifting more than 5 lbs. for 6 weeks, unless your doctor gives you other instructions
    • Don’t drive for several weeks
  • If you get a fever or have fluid from your stitches, call the transplant office and speak to your nurse or doctor

You’ll need to visit the transplant center for checkups a few times in the first year after the surgery and then once a year after that. Checkups will happen after:

  • 2 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • Every year for 2-5 more years

If you ever feel sick, call the transplant center, even if you don’t have a scheduled checkup.

Living donor surgery and recovery

Watch this video about living donor surgery and recovery.

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