Virtually all living kidney donors do well. In general for most people it is:
- 2-3 days in hospital after the transplant
- 2-3 weeks taking it relatively easy
- 2-3 months to be back to normal activities
Obviously some people are quicker to heal than others, and a small number do have some complication which means it takes a little longer than usual to recover fully.
Early after donation
As soon as you wake up after surgery you will be encouraged to become mobile i.e. moving your legs by flexing and relaxing them, and walking to the bathroom. Although it may seem tough, getting up and moving is a very important part of your recovery to reduce the possibility of a blood clot or chest infection. You will also be encouraged to take deep breathes to fill your lungs.
After leaving the hospital, the donor will typically feel tenderness, itching and some pain as the incision continues to heal. The wound is closed usually using dissolvable stitches which dissolve gradually by themselves and most donors find that the post-operative discomfort in the wounds has gone by the one month mark.
We would encourage you to push yourself a little bit more every day to build up your stamina. Lifting heavy objects (nothing heavier than a kettle!) should be avoided for at least 4-6 weeks. You should definitely avoid anything particularly heavy that requires you to strain for the first 3 months to reduce the risk of developing a hernia.
You will not need any special medication. All donors are discharged from hospital with pain relief medication and advised how and when to take it. Donors find as the weeks pass they need to take less medication. Ideally you should not take non-steroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen, Voltarol/ Diclofenac) on a regular basis in the long-term as very rarely prolonged use can cause kidney disease.
Returning to work
The minimum amount of time you should allow yourself to recover is four to six weeks. Since people recover at different rates, with varying degrees of fatigue and pain you may need as long as eight to twelve weeks leave from work for very physical jobs and a shorter time for less strenuous jobs.
In most cases it may be beneficial to phase your return to work e.g. mornings only, or three days instead of five. Previous donors suggest tiredness is the most obvious side effect they feel after donation and returning to work full-time directly may be too much.
It is crucial that you can comfortably wear your seat belt and easily do an emergency stop before you start driving again. This varies depending on speed of recovery and it’s important to remember that your energy levels may be reduced at this time. Most people don’t drive for the first 3-4 weeks. It is sensible to start with short journeys initially to ensure you are comfortable. We advise donors to check this with their insurance company they are fully covered before driving.
Regular check-ups after donation
Donors are monitored closely after surgery to ensure their recovery is progressing normally. Your coordinator will arrange a check-up two weeks after you leave the hospital and you will have an appointment with your surgeon after around six weeks.
Every year, around the anniversary of your donation, we will arrange for your kidney function and blood pressure to be checked. The first year we would like you to come back to the hospital (so we can see you!), but subsequent years we may ask you by letter to attend your GP for a check of your blood pressure, urine and kidney blood tests.
When the results are available the coordinators will then contact you by phone to discuss them. If there are any particular concerns of course you’ll be asked to come back for review.
You can find out more about living donations from NHS Blood and Transplant.