Donating a kidney: Not as scary as you think

As long as you’re healthy, you have the power to save a life if someone you love ends up needing a kidney someday.

Yes, really: If you’re asked to help, you could donate a kidney even if yours isn't a match.

Sometimes people think that giving a kidney will harm their health. Good news: Donors at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (the only adult organ transplant site in central Ohio!) tell our doctors that they feel great years later.

Giving a kidney through a donor exchange at Ohio State works like this:

  1. You want to donate a kidney to a specific person (Mom, Dad, Grandma, your daughter, a childhood friend, a co-worker or anyone else you love), but your blood types or tissue aren’t compatible.
  2. Ohio State’s in-house team tracks down another mismatched donor/recipient pair through its registry or national registries if needed.
  3. Your person in need gets a kidney from the other donor. And your kidney goes to the other person in need.

In the simplest terms, it’s a kidney swap, and it could save a life. A kidney from a living donor is by far the fastest option, with the best results, for someone whose kidneys are failing to do their job. We’re talking about a wait of five months for a transplant vs. a wait of three or four years.

What to expect

If you donate a kidney, research shows life expectancy after donation is the same as that of people with two kidneys. Plus, the transplant team performs every test possible to ensure you’ll stay just as healthy as you were before donating.

Marsheen Campbell, who donated a kidney at the Wexner Medical Center for a young mother from her church, said her medical team members made her feel confident she would come out of the process just fine. “They make sure you’re in good health from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet,” she said.

Here’s some of what you’ll experience if you ever decide to donate:

  • You’ll work with one or two main doctors dedicated to caring for you, in addition to nurses and others from a large medical team that ensures you’re healthy enough to live with one kidney. Neat fact: The remaining kidney enlarges to do the work of two!
  • You’ll even meet with a financial counselor, a psychologist and a social worker to make sure that donating is the right choice for you. Good to know: Donors don’t pay. The recipient’s insurance covers donation costs. You’ll just need to consider time off work and any travel expenses.
  • The surgery usually is laparoscopic, with a smaller incision and faster recovery. The details: Scar of about 3 inches on the lowest part of your abdomen. Leave the hospital a couple days after surgery. No limits on normal activities after six weeks.

“It’s extremely important that all of our donors have outstanding short- and long-term outcomes,” said Todd Pesavento, MD, medical director of Ohio State's Comprehensive Transplant Center. “There have been many studies that have demonstrated that donors can live healthy lives for decades after transplantation.”

                                  So – how can I help?

See the lengths that The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center team goes to when setting up kidney exchanges. In this case, surgeons completed a six-way transplant, the first and largest-to-date in Ohio and one of only a handful in the United States at a single medical center. This donor chain was extra special because it included an altruistic or non-directed donor – someone who gives a kidney without a recipient in mind.