How Is It Done?

A slightly belated welcome to the last week of National Donate Life Month to you. I have learned so much about kidney donation via my research for the blog this month, and hope you have, too. What makes more sense than to take a look at the donation process this week? 

Ready? I suppose the physical donation is the first part of the process so let’s look at that first. This is what Jefferson Heath, the home of Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College, had to say about deceased donors: 

“It isn’t necessary to match the donor and recipient for age, sex or race. All donors are screened for hepatitis viruses and the HIV virus. What’s more, all deceased donor organs are tested extensively to help ensure that they don’t pose a health threat to the recipient. Also, many studies – such as ABO blood type and HLA matching – are performed to ensure that the organs are functioning properly. 

As soon as a deceased donor is declared brain-dead, the kidneys are removed and placed in sterile fluid similar to fluid in body cells. They are then stored in the refrigerator. The harvested kidneys need to be transplanted within 24 hours of recovery – which is why recipients are often called to the hospital in the middle of the night or at short notice.” 

I wondered if the process were different for a living donation. The Mayo Clinic tells us: 

“Both you and your living kidney donor will be evaluated to determine if the donor’s organ is a good match for you. In general, your blood and tissue types need to be compatible with the donor. 

However, even if your donor isn’t a match, in some cases a successful transplant may still be possible with additional medical treatment before and after transplant to desensitize your immune system and reduce the risk of rejection.” 

Now to the actual process. Johns Hopkins offered this very clear explanation of the process: 

“Generally, a kidney transplant follows this process: 

You will remove your clothing and put on a hospital gown. 

An intravenous (IV) line will be started in your arm or hand. More catheters may be put in your neck and wrist to monitor the status of your heart and blood pressure, and to take blood samples. Other sites for catheters include under the collarbone area and the groin blood vessels. 

If there is too much hair at the surgical site, it may be shaved off. 

A urinary catheter will be inserted into your bladder. 

You will be positioned on the operating table, lying on your back. 

Kidney transplant surgery will be done while you are asleep under general anesthesia. A tube will be inserted through your mouth into your lungs. The tube will be attached to a ventilator that will breathe for you during the procedure. 

The anesthesiologist will closely watch your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery. 

The skin over the surgical site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution. 

The healthcare provider will make a long incision into the lower abdomen on one side. The healthcare provider will visually inspect the donor kidney before implanting it. 

The donor kidney will be placed into the belly. A left donor kidney will be implanted on your right side; a right donor kidney will be implanted on your left side. This allows the ureter to be accessed easily for connection to your bladder. 

The renal artery and vein of the donor kidney will be sewn to the external iliac artery and vein. 

After the artery and vein are attached, the blood flow through these vessels will be checked for bleeding at the suture lines. 

The donor ureter (the tube that drains urine from the kidney) will be connected to your bladder. 

The incision will be closed with stitches or surgical staples. 

A drain may be placed in the incision site to reduce swelling. 

A sterile bandage or dressing will be applied.” 

I wanted to know if there might be side effects or something else I should worry about as a kidney transplant recipient. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service was detailed in their response: 

Short-term complications 

Infection 

Blood clots 

Narrowing of an artery 

Arterial stenosis can cause a rise in blood pressure.  

Blocked ureter 

Urine leakage 

Acute rejection 

Long-term complications 

Immunosuppressant side effects: 

an increased risk of infections 

an increased risk of diabetes 

high blood pressure 

weight gain 

abdominal pain 

diarrhoea 

extra hair growth or hair loss 

swollen gums 

bruising or bleeding more easily 

thinning of the bones 

acne 

mood swings 

an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly skin cancer” 

Not everyone experiences these complications, nor are they insurmountable as far as I can tell. 

But what about the donor? Could he experience any ill effects? According to the trusted and respected National Kidney Foundation

“You will also have a scar from the donor operation- the size and location of the scar will depend on the type of operation you have. 

Some donors have reported long-term problems with pain, nerve damage, hernia or intestinal obstruction. These risks seem to be rare, but there are currently no national statistics on the frequency of these problems. 

In addition, people with one kidney may be at a greater risk of: 

high blood pressure 

Proteinuria 

Reduced kidney function” 

Naturally, as a donor, you’ll also be concerned about the financial aspects of donating. UNOS has information about this: 

Medical bills 

The transplant patients’ health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare may cover these costs: 

Testing 

Surgery 

Hospital stay 

Follow-up care related to donation 

Personal bills 

Paid vacation and sick leave… 

Tax deductions and credits… 

Time off… 

Tax deductions or credits for travel costs and time away from work… 

Short-term disability insurance… 

FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) … 

NLDAC (National Living Donor Assistance Center) … 

AST (American Society of Transplantation) … 

Other 

Your private insurance or a charity may also cover costs you get during donation related to: 

Travel 

Housing 

Childcare” 

Not everyone is entitled to these financial aids. It depends on your employer, your length of time at that job, your state, and previous financial standing. 

You’ve probably noticed how little Gail there is in today’s blog and how much research there is. Remember, I knew extraordinarily little about transplant before writing this month’s blogs. 

Until next week, 

Keep living your life! 

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