What to Expect Before, During, and After Donating a Kidney

When you donate a kidney at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), our transplant team will be with you every step of the way, from pre-surgery education to post-surgery follow-up.

Before Surgery

Approximately one week prior to surgery, the donor, recipient, and family members will attend a pre-surgical meeting. At this meeting, our team will review the surgical procedures for both the donor and recipient, drawing pictures and using models to ensure that all aspects of the surgeries are understood.

The Operation

The process of removing a kidney for donation is called a donor nephrectomy. The surgical procedure is minimally invasive and is performed laparoscopically.

Two or three small incisions are made in the abdomen, which is then filled with air. The surgeon then inserts instruments into these incisions. These instruments have cameras and the necessary surgical instruments on the ends to do the surgery.

A three to four-inch incision is made in your lower abdomen to remove the kidney.

Post-Operative Care

Donors typically spend several hours in the Recovery Room also known as the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit) and then are transferred to the Transplant Inpatient Unit.

Pain Management

The donor’s pain is managed immediately in the PACU and during the entire hospital stay. Conversion from intravenous (IV) or injectable pain medicine to an oral pain medication will occur by the first day after your surgery. Because pain is a very subjective symptom, some patients need small amounts of medication while other require larger dosages. You will be monitored closely by the physicians and the nursing staff but it is also important to inform your nurse if you are in pain.

In addition, some patients experience abdominal bloating for two to five days and sometimes there is discomfort in the shoulder area. Patients typically describe these discomforts as tolerable.


Donors are given IV fluids for hydration. It is not necessary to get out of bed in the first few hours after surgery to urinate since there is a catheter that drains the urine. The day after surgery the urine catheter will be removed. It only takes a minute to remove and is essentially painless.

The day after surgery you will be helped out of bed into a chair and then later in the day assisted to walk with the help of staff or your family. You will slowly resume eating and drinking and it may take a day or so to pass gas or have a bowel movement.

It is important to take deep breaths in order to avoid lung infections after the operation. A spirometer will be given to you to assist in taking deep breaths. You will be instructed by a nurse or respiratory therapist on how to use it properly.

Donors can expect to be discharged home on the first or second day after surgery provided there are no unforeseen complications.

Restrictions while recovering at home include, but are not limited to, no heavy lifting (over twenty-five pounds) during the first three weeks.

Return to Work

Donors usually return to work in two to three weeks and resume regular activities within three to four weeks of surgery. Each situation is individual and your physician will inform you when it is appropriate to return to work.

Medical Follow-Up

Medical Follow-Up

You will be given an appointment for blood work and an examination by the transplant surgeon within seven to ten days after your surgery. It is very important that you keep these appointments.

At these appointments you will be asked to sign a release so that your evaluation test results can be sent to your primary care physician along with a letter explaining that you donated a kidney and the post-donation follow-up required.

Under the requirements of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Division of RWJUH will follow your progress after donation at three predetermined intervals: six months, one year, and two years.

More Information

For a comprehensive overview of what to expect before, during, and after kidney donation, download the brochure, Living Kidney Donor Education Program: Medical and Surgical Procedure.

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