Choosing to donate a kidney to a friend, family member or loved one in need is an incredibly selfless act. But it can also be a little scary and leave you with many questions about the process, your health and how your donation will impact the recipient.

Here are five things to know about donating a kidney to clear up some of the questions you may have.

1. You'll go through an evaluation process first


Before a transplant surgery is ever scheduled, doctors need to make sure you're healthy enough to donate a kidney.

First, we will make sure your blood type and the recipient's blood type are a match. Then, you'll have lab tests and your urine checked, as well X-rays and an electrocardiogram (EKG) performed to make sure your kidneys are functioning normally, as well as evaluating any liver disease, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and any past exposure to viral illnesses.

Doctors will also review results from your routine health screenings including colonoscopies, mammograms, pap tests and more to ensure you're an overall healthy individual. You may need additional tests depending on the results of all of these studies.

You will also be asked to have a psychological assessment. Living donors have a psychosocial evaluation to talk about your life and any mental health issues you have or had in the past - this is done to ensure you understand the process and your reasons for donating. Donating your kidney can be a very emotional process and we want to make sure any risk of psychological harm is small and you have a support system during your donation process.

The team of medical professionals performing your evaluation is assigned to you, and is separate from the team working with the potential recipient. This helps ensure there's no conflict of interest and that the evaluation is done in your best interest without any bias.

One person on this team of medical professionals assigned specially to you includes a living donor advocate who you can feel free to discuss concerns you may have throughout the process. Your evaluation, including test results and conversations with your advocate and the rest of your transplant team, are kept confidential. My responsibility as the living donor surgeon is first and foremost the safety and health of the donor.

2. The Surgery

Your kidney will be removed laparoscopically (with several small incisions vs a large one used in the past) which is less invasive surgery. However, the donor must be aware that sometimes during the operation, the surgery may be changed to an open technique due to previous surgeries, or to lower the chance of complications for the donor.

3. It is safe to live with one kidney

Although there are never guarantees, those that we accept as donors should be able to live their life with one kidney without any problems. The chances of something unexpected affecting your remaining kidney is very small, especially given the thorough assessment process you go through before donating to ensure you're clear to donate. When one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney will compensate for the loss of the other kidney.

4. You will need some down time to recover

The length of time you stay in the hospital depends on your rate of recovery and how your surgery went, but living donors generally stay in the hospital two to three days. When you leave the hospital, you will feel tenderness, as well as some pain and itching at your incision site while it heals. You will be advised to refrain from heavy lifting for about six weeks and avoid contact sports that could potentially lead to an injury to the remaining kidney.

5. Your donation can help the recipient

Typically, living donor kidneys last longer than those from deceased donors. Not only can the transplant lengthen the recipient's life, but it can also improve their quality of life.