The Risks of Donating
Some doctors suggest that there are no benefits to the donor. Donors strongly disagree with that comment.
The feeling of satisfaction for the donor is a very positive psychological experience knowing that he or she has helped save the life of someone in need. There is no way to measure this benefit but it is very real to the people that experience it.
Even though the medical procedures used for living donors for transplantation has changed significantly in recent years, there are still many medical risks involved. The following is but a sample and is not presesented as being all inclusive.The minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure, compared to an open nephrectomy, has significantly shortened the recovery time for the donor. However, there are still short and long term risks. Living donors have long-term mortality rates equal to somone who has not donated. (See article from the New England Journal of Medicine.) The largest follow-up study, maintained in Sweden, has tracked over 400 donors through a lifetime and concluded that overall mortality was less than expected in the general population. This fact has fueled an ongoing debate over why kidney donors live longer than expected. Some experts believe that may be simply a selection bias since only healthy people can be selected to be living donors. Others argue that the altruistic act of giving the gift of life and the happiness and satisfaction that follows has a positive impact and leads to a healthier and longer life.
Patients should expect pain and discomfort after the operation. And as with any major operation, there are other risks involved including:
- There is the risk of death by the donor
- Potential for organ failure and the need for a future organ transplant for the donor
- Potential for other medical complications, high blood pressure and other long term complications currently unforeseen
- Scars, pain, fatigue
- Abdominal or bowel symptoms such as bloating and nausea
- Surgical complications including risk of donor death
Living donation may also have long-term risks that may not be apparent in the short term. It is therefore important that the benefits to both donor and recipient outweigh the risks associated with the donation and transplantation of the living donor organ. In addition to potential individual health concerns, it is possible for negative psychological consequences to result from living donations. Living donors may feel pressured by their families into donating an organ and guilty if they are reluctant to go through with the procedure. Feelings of resentment may also occur if the recipient rejects the donated organ. Living donors must be made aware of the physical and psychological risks involved before they consent to donate an organ. They should discuss their feelings, questions and concerns with a transplant professional, family, friends, clergy and/or social workers.
The two types of kidney removal procedures, laparoscopic and non-laparoscopic, have very different recovery times. Laparoscopic kidney removal is less invasive and allows the donor to be discharged as early as one day after surgery, (stays of 2-3 days are not uncommon,) and to return to work in one to four weeks depending on the donor’s occupation. Non-laparoscopic surgery has a longer recovery time.