#25. A risky business - Dec. 2011

One of the things the transplant doctor talked at length about is the risk of being a kidney donor. While he said that kidney removal is something that they do routinely, there are risks in any operation. “Let me tell you about some complications to being a kidney donor that I have seen at this hospital,” he said. He told me of someone who turned out to have a heart condition that only became noticeable in surgery. They had to keep her in for all sorts of tests, and instead of being in the hospital for six days like she had planned, she was in the hospital for two weeks. It turns out the heart problem was not a big problem, but she had to have those tests. Another person developed an infection, and had to be in ICU because of kidney failure of the remaining kidney. But it started working again. Or you could get an infection in the incision. Or you could get C.diff. by being in the hospital. He quoted statistics of how many people have died having their kidney removed in the last ten years in North America (I think it was one or two people).

So that was a sobering conversation! But he also highlighted that it is not as risky as some operations, for example, having your gallbladder removed. They do a lot of screening to make sure you are a good candidate.

He said, “If you are donating a kidney to someone you know, there is a benefit to you. Even if you have complications, you can balance that out by the fact that you are helping someone you love or care about, or someone you at least know.”  And then he went on to say, “As an undesignated donor, if you have complications, you are really going to question whether this was a good thing, because you won’t meet the person who is benefitting from what you did.”  That’s why it is called an altruistic donor, there is no benefit to you.

But for me, it has to do with being a certain type of person. I want to be a person who would be willing to take a risk to save someone’s life. And so if I am that type of person, I am willing to do this, and I have to accept that there may be complications.