Surgical Complications After Kidney Donation

11% of the survey respondents say they were treated for surgical complications during their initial hospital stay after their kidney donation. Of all the posts I share, as one of the unlucky ones, this one will inevitably be colored by a my personal experience.

I think everyone can agree that number should be 0%. Unfortunately, as with any major surgery, it can’t be. There are too many humans involved for things to go perfectly every time.

As living donors, we understand there are risks but that those risks are small compared to the potential upside for our recipients. People take much bigger risks every day for much smaller gains.

One of the nephrologists I talked to before my surgery explained some surgeons struggle to reconcile the risk to a donor with the Hippocratic Oath. They reason that the potential harm to the donor is outweighed by the potential good for the recipient.

My sample size for this survey it is too small to uncover any statistically significant variations between those who had surgical complications and those who did not. The numbers look about the same regardless of donor’s gender, time since donation, and type of procedure. The key takeaway is that complications can happen to anyone.

As I was in the process of compiling some of the open ended responses from the donors who took the survey, I came across a comment that referenced a more official report on complications and long term outcomes for living kidney donors. I recommend digging into that one too.

My advice to anyone going through the process right now is not to dwell on these numbers but to take the time to have the “What if?” conversations so you’re a little more prepared

Please note that in this post, I am looking only at surgical complications that were treated during the initial hospital stay. I didn’t ask about the specifics of the complication itself so the best I can do as a proxy for severity of the complication is to look at how they impact recovery timelines and attitudes about donation.

Impact of Surgical Complications on Recovery Timelines

When I asked about timelines for hospital stays and return to work and return to work, 31% of the living kidney donors who reported having surgical complications said they spent more than 7 days recovering in the hospital. The remaining 69% were inline with the recovery days reported by donors who did not have surgical complications. This might tell us a little bit about the severity and how quickly the complications were resolved.

Breakdown of living kidney donor hospital stays reported in the living kidney donor survey.

Similarly, 38% of the 24 donors with complications who answered the question about time off work said they took more than 6 weeks off of work after their donation compared to 16% of those who did not have surgical complications.

Impact on Long Term Outcomes

I asked a ton of questions about issues experienced by donors after their surgery, but for this post I want to keep it simple. At the end of the day, I asked living donors to rate their current health on a 5-point scale.

96% of survey respondents who reported being treated for surgical complications after their kidney donation rate their overall health today as Good or Very Good.

Impact on Feelings About Donation

Trust me, when there are complications during a surgery, there can be a lot of complicated emotions. Not just for the donor, but for their recipient, family, and support team. I think that the way the surgical and support teams react to an unexpected complication goes a long way in terms of how that donor thinks about their experience as a living donor.

All things considered, 85% donors who were treated for surgical complications during their initial hospital stay rate their overall experience as a living kidney donor either a 4 or 5.

I asked “If you could have had a crystal ball to better predict what your experience as a Living Kidney Donor would be like, do you think you would have moved forward?”

If you told me any time leading up to the surgery that my experience would involve serious complications and a longer road to recovery, I would have said no. I remember my state of mind during that time and the boundaries I laid out for myself so I know that’s the truth. Sitting where I sit now, though, I can honestly say I don’t have regrets and that I’m glad things worked out in the end.

86% of the donors who had surgical complications said that even if they had been able to predict what their experience would look like they would do it again.

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