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About the operation

How to prepare for living donation transplant surgery

Many times with living donation organ transplant surgeries, these are scheduled in advance at a time that is convenient for the recipient as well as the living donor. When scheduling this procedure, you will want to keep in mind a few variables for both recipient and donor are accounted for including:

  • Planning for adequate time off work
  • Facilitating pet or childcare, if needed
  • Coordinating transportation to and from the hospital
  • Packing a bag with necessary health records and insurance information
  • Arranging for necessary post-surgery care

Living donation procedures vary per organ and how to prepare for your living donation surgery may vary slightly depending on your procedure. It is best to consult with your doctor on your individual surgery prep and post-surgery care. However, before your organ transplant surgery here’s an idea of what you can expect and how to prepare.

Before the surgery

  • Your surgery will be scheduled far in advance
  • You’ll complete any pre-surgery health tests and assessments 1-2 weeks before surgery
  • You and your donor will arrive at the hospital around the same time to prep for surgery
  • Once you have been admitted to the hospital, your transplant team will walk you through your pre-surgery checklist
  • You and your donor may be retested again to ensure a match ahead of surgery
  • Your transplant nurse will explain everything that will happen during your surgery
  • An Anesthesiologist will meet with you to discuss your anesthesia plan for putting you to sleep and preventing pain during surgery

After the surgery

  • Your transplant team will likely put you in an intensive care unit (ICU) recovery room
  • For the next few days, doctors and nurses will closely monitor your health vitals providing IV fluids, pain medicines, and organ anti-rejection medications
  • You likely won’t be able to eat for the few days post-surgery
  • Depending on the speed of your recovery as well as your procedure, you may be prepped by your doctor to go home after 2-5 days
  • Once you are home, your transplant care team will continue to monitor your progress through scheduled check-ups and lab tests

When you are home from surgery be sure to:

  • Shower daily, washing any incisions with soap and water then pat dry
  • Eat healthy meals as outlined by your doctor
  • Get back to your normal activities at your own pace
  • Walk daily and stay active, avoid lifting more than 5 pounds for the first 6 weeks

More details on what to expect during living donation organ transplant surgeries can be found below, segmented by organ type.


A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of a kidney. This removal can be done by one of two ways:

Laparoscopic donor nephrectomy

Laparoscopic nephrectomy, also known as “keyhole surgery,” is a minimally invasive surgical procedure for obtaining a kidney from a living donor that can make the process easier.

In this procedure, the surgeon makes two or three small incisions close to the belly button. The kidney is removed through the central incision. Through one of the other openings, a special camera called a laparoscope is used to produce an inside view of the abdominal cavity. Surgeons use the laparoscope, which transmits a real-life picture of the internal organs to a video monitor, to guide them through the surgical procedure.

In comparison to the standard operation, it results in a smaller incision, reduces recuperation time and usually shortens hospital stays. Many donors are discharged from the hospital after two days and return to normal activity within four weeks.

Not all donors can undergo laparoscopic nephrectomy. You may not qualify for the procedure if:

  • You have had multiple previous abdominal surgeries
  • You are significantly overweight
  • There is abnormal anatomy of the kidney

Your doctor will complete an evaluation to determine if laparoscopic donor nephrectomy is a possibility.

Open nephrectomy

Open nephrectomy has been the standard for the last 35 years and involves a five to seven inch incision on the side of the chest and upper abdomen. A surgical instrument called a retractor is usually needed to spread the ribs to gain access to the donor’s kidney. Sometimes it’s necessary to remove part of a rib for better exposure.

The operation typically lasts three hours, and the recovery in the hospital averages four to five days. Donors can usually return to normal activity within four to twelve weeks.


Some transplant centers perform living liver transplants. If you are considering donating a part of your liver to a friend or family member, contact their transplant center. It is also important to talk to the transplant team about their experience and success rates.

In living liver donation, individuals donate a portion of the liver. This approach works because the liver has the ability to regenerate itself in both the donor and recipient after transplantation.

The size of the portion and specific part of the liver that is donated depends on the needs of the recipient. For instance:

  • If you are donating to a child, a portion or all of the left lobe is taken.
  • If you are donating to an adult of similar or lesser size, the entire left lobe is taken.
  • If you are donating to a larger adult, the right lobe is removed.

The procedure involves an incision on the side of the chest. A surgical instrument called a retractor is usually needed to spread the ribs to gain access to the donor’s liver. Because the vessels surrounding the liver may not be sufficiently large for transplantation, a portion of the a vessel in your leg may also be removed and used to connect the donated liver to the recipient.

The operation typically lasts five to eight hours, and the recovery in the hospital averages seven days.


Although the first living lung donation occurred in 1990, not all transplant centers perform living lung transplants. If you are considering donating a part of your lung to a friend or family member, contact their transplant center. It is also important to talk to the transplant team about their experience and success rates.

A set of lungs has five lobes—two on the left and three on the right. Living lung donation requires two donors—one person giving one lobe, or portion of their left lung, and the other giving a lobe of their right lung. The two lobes are transplanted into a single recipient. The donors’ lungs must be the appropriate size and volume. As with any living donation transplant, potential donors will undergo a series of medical and psychological tests.

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