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Living Kidney Donation Surgery: What to Expect

Living kidney donation surgery might seem intimidating, but most donors find that the surgery is easier to handle than they expected. If your surgery is approved, our transplant team will work closely with you to schedule surgery and give you more information about your donation process.

Shorter Recovery Time, Less Pain

Today almost every living donor at University of Utah Health undergoes an operation called a laparoscopic nephrectomy. In this minimally invasive operation, surgeons only need to make a few small cuts (incisions).

Fewer incisions allow for a much faster recovery than traditional surgery (an open nephrectomy), which requires a large incision that's 10-12 inches long. Laparoscopic surgery usually lasts three to five hours. 

You can expect to stay in the hospital for a few days (the exact length will depend on your individual circumstances). Then, you will need to take it easy for two to three weeks after you are discharged.

Preparing for Surgery

You will need to have lab tests one week before your surgery that include:

  • regular pre-operative testing,
  • a urine test to make sure you don't have a urinary tract infection,
  • and another crossmatch test to make sure that you and your recipient are still compatible. 

Here are some things to think about in prepararation for your surgery and recovery:

  • How will I get to and from the hospital before and after my surgery?
  • What do I need to bring to the hospital? 

You might want to consider packing:

  • some clothing like underwear, socks, pajamas, a robe, slippers, and sweats--or other comfortable clothing to wear home;
  • a pair of shoes--as your strength improves, the doctors will want you to walk around; and
  • personal toiletries. 

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Living Kidney Donation Recovery

It's normal to feel nervous before your kidney donation surgery and wonder if your recovery will be slow or painful. Recovery is a little different for every patient, but most donors need to stay in the hospital for one to three days. Full recovery usually takes up to four weeks. Your doctors and nurses will explain everything to you as it happens. If you have any questions or concerns, please ask them.

After Surgery

After your operation, nurses will take you into our surgical recovery room. This unit is specially staffed and equipped to take care of patients who have just had surgery.

You will probably stay in the recovery room until the anesthesia wears off, which usually takes one or two hours.

Soon after the anesthesia wears off, hospital staff will guide you to a patient room. You will have one or two IVs in your arm or hand that we use to provide you with important medicines and fluids to keep you hydrated. You will have a catheter that drains urine from your bladder.

Our team might also give you special socks or compression sleeves on your legs to prevent blood clots.

Managing Pain

After your surgery, you will probably have pain and weakness. Every patient is different. Some patients don't feel much pain at all; others feel more pain. The key is to control any pain that you do feel. Our surgical specialists can help you manage and limit your pain with medication. Please tell a nurse or doctor whenever you are in a lot of discomfort.

You should also let your care team know if you feel sick to your stomach. Some patients feel nauseous after receiving anesthesia, or as a side effect of pain medicine.

Kidney Donation Scar

With minimally invasive surgery, kidney donation surgery leaves minimal scarring. The incisions we use are only a few centimeters long and don’t leave a large scar.

Moving Around After Surgery

Within 24 hours of your surgery, a nurse will help you sit up and take a short walk. The sooner you move around after surgery, the faster you will recover. Do not worry if it is difficult to get out of bed for the first time after your surgery. This is a normal reaction.


After your discharge, the hospital will schedule an appointment for you to see your surgeon within two weeks.

Life After Donating a Kidney

You will have a follow-up appointment with a kidney specialist six, 12, and 24 months after your donation surgery. These visits assess your kidney function and check for signs of complications.

After two years, you’ll continue regular medical care with a primary care provider. The majority of people stay in good overall health and complete the same routine screenings as the general population. However, if you develop kidney disease in the future, U of U Health is here to take care of you.

Donating a Kidney: Risks & Long-Term Effects

Some people may experience long-term effects of donating a kidney. After kidney donation, you have a higher risk of developing certain conditions:

People who have donated a kidney also have a higher risk of kidney failure later in life, although the overall risk is still extremely low. We evaluate your risk of kidney failure during our thorough screening process and don’t select donors who have higher than a 1% risk of kidney failure.

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Resources for Our Patients

Financial Resources

Are you considering living organ donation but are worried about costs of care? Learn more by reading the American Society of Transplantation's Live Donor Financial Toolkit.

View the Financial Toolkit

Independent Living Donor Advocate (ILDA)

During the entire evaluation process, the independent living donor advocate (ILDA) is available to help make sure your rights as a donor are protected.

Meet the Independent Living Donor Advocate

To Start the Living Kidney Screening Process

Begin your journey towards becoming a living kidney donor.

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What to Expect: Living Kidney Donation

Find out what to expect throughout the process of becoming a living kidney donor.

Read the Guide

Meet Our Patients & Donors

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