The Emotions of Donating a Kidney

There's a lot to understand and learn about how donating a kidney affects you physically. There are things to learn about the emotional side of being a kidney donor, too.

Becoming a living kidney donor can be one of the most emotional and satisfying experiences of your life. It can also take your emotions on a rollercoaster ride.

If you're donating to someone you know, say a relative or close friend, worry about their health can change to joy at being able to save their life. Maybe you wish you wanted to help, but being a donor isn't the right decision for you. That's okay and a decision many people make. You shouldn't be pressured to get tested as a potential match or to donate.

Even if you decide to be tested, you can change your mind any time during the process. Your decision is kept in strict confidence and the recipient is told that a medical condition has ruled you out as a donor. 

Making the decision to be tested may be tough, or you may not think twice about saying "yes." If you're ready to move forward full steam ahead, there are what-ifs that could occur that you don't have control over, but you should consider how you would feel if they happen, such as:

  • What if you're not a match?

  • Would you be willing to donate to someone you don't know through paired exchange if you're not a match for someone you planned to donate to?

  • What if your recipient's body rejects your kidney?

  • What if your recipient's lifestyle leads to kidney problems or rejection?

If you're an altruistic donor—donating to a stranger—you may donate to someone who chooses to remain anonymous. You may learn basic information—age, sex, and how the surgery goes—but that's it. Some people have a need to know, others don't. You can't know for sure how you would feel about not having that information, but you should consider it. 

Olivia talks about the emotional ups and downs of kidney donation. 

Donor Depression

Ask donors if they'd donate again if they could, and the most common answer you get is, "Absolutely!" But it's not uncommon after the months of build-up and excitement about being a donor, to feel a mix of emotions when the surgery is over You can feel joy and relief from having done it; you may feel anxious if there are complications for your recipient. 

Even if everything went perfectly for you and the recipient, it's not unusual to feel let down, even depressed. That's when it's time to talk with the social worker or your coordinator from your transplant team. They can give you the support and guidance you need. Talking with other donors can help, too. 

Should You Tell People You're Going to Donate a Kidney?

It's a personal decision whether to tell people you're going to be or are a kidney donor. On the surface, it can feel self-serving and braggy to share. But before you rule it out, consider the good it does. 

For starters, it's a powerful way to educate people about living kidney donation. Sharing your story—what led you to say yes and your experience through the process—may inspire others to consider becoming a donor, too. It's how Team Share A Spare came about.

Sharing inspires people in other ways, too, for good. Seeing someone else voluntarily give of themselves—in a pretty significant way—often gets people thinking about what they're doing to help others. They may not decide to donate a kidney, but they may look for other ways they can put a shine on the world. No, kidney donors don't give to inspire, but why not possibly start a chain of goodness?

Sharing also gives people a feel-good story to be a part of. People love to cheer on a hero (and yes, that's how people see donors, much to donors' dismay) and will joyfully do it with cards, emails, prayers, texts, food, and visits. That support builds community. It's not something donors expect, but when you're feeling nervous before surgery, or wondering when the gas pain will go away, it's a huge dose of feel-good that can really help. 

There are emotional ups and downs with kidney donation, especially when you're donating to a family member as Nicole explains.