Medical and Other Concerns

Medical and Other Concerns

The concerns of most potential donors revolve around the risks of surgery and the consequences of living with only one kidney. The removal of a kidney (termed a nephrectomy) is a major surgical procedure. As such, some predictable medical risks are associated with it. In a healthy individual, these risks are typically small. All donors undergo an extensive evaluation to ensure their suitability for surgery. The transplant will only be scheduled if the transplant team feels confident that the health of a potential donor will not be jeopardized in any way.

Some conditions, such as smoking and severe obesity, add a significant risk factor to the donor’s surgery. It is required, therefore, that donors who smoke, stop smoking a minimum of three months prior to surgery. Some donors may be asked to participate in a weight-loss program. In addition, donors are screened carefully to determine if they are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease in the months or years after surgery.

Only one kidney is necessary to provide good health and a normal life. Long-term medical consequences for kidney donors are very rare, and the donor can expect to live a normal life span with an excellent quality of life. Kidney donation does not impact a woman’s ability to have a normal pregnancy and childbirth. It is important, however, for the donor to avoid accidents that may damage the remaining kidney. Such accidents are usually the result of major trauma or severe sports injuries. Therefore, donors should avoid extreme contact sports and risky activities, such as boxing or tackle football.

Psychological and emotional considerations

Donation must be a voluntary act, with no monetary compensation or other forms of pressure or reward. The transplant team will have extensive discussions with the potential donor about his or her motivations and expectations. In particular, a donor must remember that success of the transplanted kidney cannot be guaranteed. A donor may feel regret or responsibility if the transplant does not turn out as well as anticipated.

Most donors believe that the emotional advantages of donating a kidney outweigh the disadvantages. Studies have shown that many donors experience an improved self-image and report a closer relationship with the recipient after the transplant.

Financial considerations

The donor does not pay for his or her medical expenses, so it is not necessary that kidney donors have their own medical insurance at the time of transplant. The recipient’s insurance will be asked to pay for the costs of the donor evaluation, donor surgery, hospitalization and medications. In the small chance of immediate postoperative complications, the recipient’s insurance is also responsible for these costs. Most insurance plans pay for donor expenses in full.

Bills incurred by any potential kidney donor prior to transplant are sent to the Organ Transplant Department for payment; these costs are later forwarded to the recipient’s insurance at the time of the transplant. Charges for the surgery and costs after transplant are billed directly to the recipient’s insurance.

Although a donor does not pay for his or her medical expenses, he or she may be unable to work for as long as six weeks after the surgery. The donor must consider the financial impact of lost wages during the postoperative recovery period, as well as the possible additional costs for travel to Seattle, lodging and childcare. Occasionally, the recipient’s insurance plan will allocate funds for the donor’s lodging and travel expenses, but none give compensation for lost wages. A potential donor should check with his or her employer to see if short-term disability, annual leave or organ-donor leave benefits are available.

The Organ Transplant Program’s social workers will discuss these financial issues with the potential donor. They can assist in finding resources that may help pay for nonmedical expenses.

Donating a kidney is not financially possible for everyone. The transplant team understands and respects the need to decline based on financial or other reasons.

Contact Information

Transplant Program
1101 Madison
First Hill Campus, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206-386-3660 or 1-800-99ORGAN (1-800-996-7426)
Fax: 206-386-3644
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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