Skip to Content

Kidney Transplant: Living Kidney Donation at University of Colorado Hospital

Living donation is a transplant surgery performed between two living adults.

Typically, a blood relative, spouse or close family friend donates one of their kidneys to the patient in need. Donors can live a normal, healthy life with only one kidney.


Among the many benefits of receiving a kidney from a living donor:

  • No waiting period
  • Surgeries can be scheduled at a convenient time for both the donor and recipient
  • If the living donor is a blood relative with a genetic match, the risk of rejection is decreased
  • A kidney from a live donor typically works sooner and better than a kidney from a deceased person
  • A kidney from a live donor lasts longer than a kidney from a deceased person

When a kidney is donated by a living person, the surgeries are done at the same time.

Donor eligibility

Living kidney donors must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Have a compatible blood type with the patient requiring the organ
  • Be in excellent medical and psychological health

Most donors are family members (spouse, parent, sibling, son, daughter, nephew, niece) of the recipient or a close, personal friend.

First Phase of Testing for Living Kidney Donation

  • Medical history and screening questionnaire
  • Blood tests (screening tests and possibly tests for compatibility with the potential recipient)
  • Urine studies, including a 24-hour urine collection

Second Phase of Testing for Living Kidney Donation

  • Chest X-ray and EKG
  • Evaluation and discussion of the donor surgery with a transplant surgeon
  • Evaluation and consultation with a social worker for a "psychosocial screening"
  • Evaluation and consultation with a nurse coordinator
  • Consultation with the Independent Living Donor Advocate
  • 24-hour urine collection
  • Any additional testing deemed necessary based on the results of the initial tests

These tests will generally be completed in one visit. It is preferable that the testing be done at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver by members of our Kidney Transplant Team. However, potential donors from outside of Colorado may undergo some of these tests in their local community, preferably at another transplant center in consultation with our transplant team.

If all of these tests show that you are a suitable donor, one final study to assess your kidney anatomy is required. The donor surgery and kidney transplant may then be scheduled for the earliest appropriate time for you and the recipient.

Donor and recipient surgery

The operation performed to remove the healthy kidney from the donor is called a nephrectomy. This is a major surgery and there are some risks involved. The majority of these surgeries are done using a laparoscopic or minimally invasive approach. As a result, the recovery time for the donor is faster than with traditional surgery.

To do living kidney donor surgery, the donor and the recipient are placed in side-by-side operating rooms.

The donated kidney is then immediately placed in the recipient in the next operating room. The donor's remaining kidney is sufficient to maintain the donor's normal body functions.

Frequently Asked Questions: Living Kidney Donation

Can I live with only one kidney?

Yes. The body has two kidneys and is capable of normal function with only one kidney. The remaining kidney will grow larger and function for both kidneys.

I've heard about "paired donation." What is it?

Paired donation programs identify medically compatible pairs of potential living kidney donors and candidates, in cases where the potential donor was not able to match with his or her original intended recipient. Visit this page to learn more

Can I live with only one kidney?

Yes. The body has two kidneys and is capable of normal function with only one kidney. The remaining kidney will grow larger and function for both kidneys.

I want to be a kidney donor, what’s next?

Once you’ve made the decision that you want to be a living kidney donor, a series of tests must be performed to determine if you are in fact an eligible candidate. Before you begin the testing process, you need to know your blood type.

How long will I be in the hospital and out of work after donating a kidney?

Usually the donor is admitted to the hospital the same day the surgery is performed. The hospital stay after donor surgery averages three to five days. If the donor resides outside of the Denver metropolitan area, then he/she may be asked to stay in the area for approximately one week after the donor surgery.

Most people are able to return to work after two to three weeks, depending on their recovery from surgery and the type of job they have. If the donor has a desk job, he/she may be able to return to work sooner than patients with a more physically demanding job.

How will kidney donation affect my life after surgery?

Most people are born with two kidneys and can live a long and healthy life after donating a kidney. The remaining kidney grows bigger and simply takes over for both kidneys.

There is a slightly increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney failure in those that donate a kidney, but this increased risk is small and only affects a low number of patients.

Am I making the right decision to donate a kidney?

This is a question only you can answer. Living donation is not for everyone.

You may find it helpful to talk with another patient who has been a living kidney donor to discuss your feelings and concerns about becoming a donor. If you are interested in meeting another living kidney donor, ask a member of the transplant team to help arrange this.

You will also have an opportunity to talk with the Independent Living Donor Advocate to discuss your concerns and questions. The Donor Advocate promotes your best interest and will help you understand the risks and benefits of making this decision to donate.

What happens if I decide not to become a kidney donor?

If you decide not to become a donor, then the recipient will remain active on the conventional transplant waiting list. The recipient also may elect to find another living donor.

How much will it cost me to donate a kidney?

The treatment related to the donor surgery within the first three months will not cost you anything. This includes your:

  • Pre-operative evaluation
  • Surgery
  • Hospital stay
  • Outpatient visits
  • Medical treatment

These costs are paid by the recipient or the recipient's insurance company.

Your only direct costs related to the donation may be:

  • Time off work
  • Transportation
  • Non-hospital lodging costs related to the evaluation and surgery

Request an Appointment