A number of advances have been made in kidney donor surgery. Today, a minimally invasive procedure, known as laparoscopy, uses technologically advanced equipment and techniques to minimize tissue damage and reduce pain, scarring and recovery time.
The laparoscopic procedure involves a few small incisions in a pattern around a larger central incision. The surgeon uses a small camera inserted through one of the incisions to guide the surgery, which removes the kidney to be used for transplant through the central incision. This opening is typically about one-third the size of the incision needed for removing the kidney in traditional surgery.
If traditional "open" surgery for kidney removal is required, the surgeon will make an 8 to 12 inch incision in the lower side and back on the side where the kidney is to be removed. The surgeon must cut through muscles in the side and back to get access to the kidney. On rare occasions, a part or all of the lowest rib must be removed.
The transplant surgeon will spend some time reviewing the different surgery procedures with you, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each. The doctors will also inform you if you are a good candidate for the laparoscopic procedure.
Each donor's recovery is unique, but the donor can reasonably expect to remain in the hospital for 2 to 3 days following surgery as long as there have been no complications. Generally, donors who have the laparoscopic surgery require a shorter recovery time than donors who have the traditional surgery.
After leaving the hospital and returning home, you will need to take it easy for several weeks to allow time to properly heal and recuperate. You may experience some tenderness and itching at the site of the incision(s). You should monitor the incision(s) for signs of infection, such as redness or oozing, and report these immediately to the transplant center.
You must avoid heavy lifting (anything over 10 lbs) or strenuous activity for about 8 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. You should also avoid driving a car for about 3 weeks. Your surgeon can discuss this with you further.
Your ability to return to work and how many hours you can work each day will largely depend on the kind of job you have. If little or no physical exertion is required, you may be able to return to work earlier than if you must regularly lift, move objects, or perform other strenuous physical activities. It will be important for you to discuss your particular situation with the doctor before you attempt to return to work.
Most donors are able to fully return to their normal routine in about 6 to 8 weeks following surgery. You will need to have regular physical checkups with a doctor during your recovery period to monitor your progress and address any problems that might arise. You should also see a doctor on an annual basis to check for any problems that may develop later.