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.
- Blood thinning injections: to prevent blood clots you will be giving blood thinning injections and fitted with surgical compression stockings. The injections are given under the skin, once a day for the first week. AS most donors go home after 3 days you will see require this after you leave hospital. Most donors inject themselves and the nursing staff will show you how to do this. For patients who do not feel able to inject themselves community nurses can be arranged. We will send you home with a sharps box for the used injection needles which can be brought back to the hospital when attending for your follow up appointment.
- Wounds: the wound is closed using dissolvable sutures (so no need to get stitches removed) which are covered with a plastic dressing (which looks like glue!). You will be able to shower with this and no other dressing is required. The ‘glue’ will wear off after 10-14 days.
Once you are home
After leaving the hospital, the donor will typically feel tenderness, itching and some pain as the incision continues to heal. Most people find that the post-operative discomfort in the wounds has gone by the one month mark. Some find that beyond this, they tire easily or occasionally feel a little washed out until two or three months following donation.
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.
Return 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.
In general, having one kidney will have no implications for your job. However, some branches of military service will not accept new recruits for two years after donating a kidney (see http://www.army.mod.uk/join/20157.aspx for general information about Military Enlistment Standards). Currently the police, fire and ambulance services do not have such restrictions, although you should check to see if living donation would affect your eligibility for that particular field.
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 its 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.
When to resume sexual intercourse is entirely up to the individual. This will be whenever you feel ready and pain free. We would advise female donors to wait at least six months after donating before becoming pregnant.
Regular check-ups after donation
We will monitor you closely after surgery to ensure your 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 we will ask you to come back in person for review.
If a donor has any worries, concerns or problems the coordinators are very happy to be contacted on 02895048293/ 02895049437 during office hours.