Becoming a Kidney Donor

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Questions and fears are inevitable for anyone considering making the life-sustaining gift of a kidney. At NewYork-Presbyterian /Columbia University Medical Center (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia), a dedicated team is there from the start to help each potential donor fully understand the procedure and to reach the right individual decision. The mission of the team—which consists of a nephrologist (kidney specialist), surgeon, transplant coordinator, social worker, and psychiatrist—is to ensure objectivity and donor advocacy throughout the process.

Donors can range in age from 18 years old up into their 70s. Age-specific good health is required and immunological compatibility (blood type and antigens) with the recipient is preferred. Certain diseases or chronic conditions, such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis, and diabetes, will exclude potential donors.

Potential donors must undergo a wide range of tests to determine their eligibility, including a full medical history, a battery of blood, urine, EKG, and tissue-typing tests, as well as psychological examinations. In addition, the renal anatomy of all donors is examined to ensure that they are suitable candidates for a laparoscopic nephrectomy—the minimally invasive procedure used by Columbia surgeons to remove the kidney.

If you would like to begin this process, the first step is filling out the medical questionnaire. Once the transplant center receives your questionnaire it is reviewed by a transplant coordinator. The center will then contact you to let you know if you are a potential donor for the patient.

Donor Procedure

Since 1996, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia surgeons have been removing kidneys from living donors using a technique known as a laparoscopic nephrectomy. In fact, Dr. Ratner, the program director, performed the world's first laparoscopic nephrectomy with his colleague, Louis Kavoussi, MD.

Instead of a single, large incision, a laparoscopic nephrectomy typically requires three, half-inch incisions, through which the surgeon inserts surgical instruments and a camera to view the operating field. Once the surgeon has freed up the kidney to be donated, he or she removes it from the patient through a slightly larger incision. The removed kidney is placed in a bag and chilled on ice until it can be implanted in the recipient.

Since this technique uses smaller incisions, donors benefit greatly from reduced post-operative pain, speedier recovery times, and less scarring. On average, kidney donors spend two days in the hospital and can return to their normal activities within three weeks.

Today, all donor procedures at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia are performed as laparoscopic nephrectomies. Once a donor has recuperated from the surgery, they can expect to lead a completely normal life—without special medications, restricted diet, or limited physical activities.

Medical Questionnaire for Kidney Donation

If you would like to begin the process of becoming a kidney donor to a patient with end stage renal disease, the first step is filling out the medical questionnaire. Once the transplant center receives your questionnaire it is reviewed by a transplant coordinator. The center will then contact you to let you know if you are a potential donor for the patient.