Living Kidney Donor Surgery

The process leading up to surgery can take months, and you may wonder if you'll ever get to surgery day. But you do, if no medical or health glitches get in the way. 

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Preparing for Surgery

There aren't a lot of do's and don'ts before surgery. If you're healthy enough to donate, it's likely good nutrition and exercise are already part of your daily routine. Ramping up your attention to both in the weeks before will help you go in to surgery as healthy and strong as possible, increasing your chance for an easier recovery. 

The day before surgery, you won't be able to eat or drink anything after midnight. You may be on medications that you'll need to quit taking before surgery. Your transplant coordinator covers all the details and instructions during your pre-op testing. 

Surgery day usually means a pre-dawn alarm to be at the hospital two hours before the surgery. But you've got a good nap coming because donating a kidney requires major surgery and a general anesthesia—you'll be asleep during the entire procedure. If you and your recipient are at the same hospital, your procedure typically starts first, with your recipient waiting in an operating room next door.


Donors and surgeons confirm which kidney is headed to a new home. 

Donors and surgeons confirm which kidney is headed to a new home. 

Removing Your Kidney

The procedure to remove a kidney is called a nephrectomy and usually takes about three hours, followed by time in the recovery room. Today, most donor surgeries are done using a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy. That means a quicker recovery, less pain and a shorter hospital stay for you. 

During the procedure, the surgeon pumps your abdomen with carbon dioxide gas. That lifts the abdominal wall so there's room to see and work. The surgeon uses a laparoscope (a tiny camera) and special instruments inserted through tiny incisions in your abdomen. The surgeon removes the kidney through a different 3-4-inch incision just below your belly button. 

In some cases, laparoscopic surgery isn't the best surgical option. Other abdominal surgeries, the shape of your kidney and being overweight may make traditional open surgery a better choice. Traditional surgery requires a bigger incision, and a longer hospital stay. 

This video  is an actual kidney donation surgery done in 2009 at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. 

Janice talks about her surgery to donate a kidney and what you can expect.