Organ donation

The recipient's health

There is no guarantee that a kidney transplant will work. However, living kidney transplantation is overwhelmingly successful with 97% of live donated kidneys working well at one year. This compares with a success rate of 94% for kidneys from deceased donors (NHS Choices 2014). Here, donors talk about the effects of their donation on the recipient’s health. Experiences of life after transplant from a recipient’s perspective can be found on the section called ‘Experiences of recipients’. 
The biggest fear for many donors was rejection – to go through a major operation and the then the transplant is unsuccessful (see Having surgery’). All of the people we interviewed said the kidney they had donated, whether to a relative, friend or someone anonymous, had taken successfully and the recipient was doing well. Before surgery, some recipients had been on dialysis; others had received a kidney shortly before needing dialysis. None of the recipients had experienced any serious problems because of the donation and had recovered well.
Those who had donated a kidney to a family member or friend were able to see the effects on the recipient firsthand. Some said the recipient looked healthier almost immediately after the operation. Although recipients had needed to take lots of medication every day, including anti-rejection tablets, their health had improved vastly after surgery and they were now able to do many of the things they were unable to do before the transplant. Darren, who had noticed a difference in his daughter almost immediately after surgery, said she was now looking forward to studying at college. Before surgery, she’d been extremely weak, exhausted and needed dialysis three times a week. Their relationship had also become closer because of the donation.
Annabel had donated a kidney to a friend. Although the transplant had been successful, he’d had two infections shortly afterwards and, later, problems with his prostrate. Now, though, he is well and he and his wife had enjoyed travelling around the world.
Some of the people we interviewed had donated a kidney to an anonymous recipient. Shortly after coming round from surgery, the doctor had told them that the operation had been successful. The news that the recipient was doing well, shortly after they’d left the hospital, was also very welcome. Donors usually received a letter from the recipient, via the specialist nurse, sometime after the transplant. The recipient had thanked them and told them, in their own words, what a difference the transplant had made to their lives. Some donors wrote back to the recipient, while others chose not to.

Donors said they’d donated anonymously because they’d wanted a patient to benefit. They did not mind who their kidney went to and had donated in the spirit of altruism. Some did not receive a letter from the recipient but had heard from the specialist nurse that the recipient was well and enjoying life. Maggie said that, after donation, she wanted to carry on with life as normal. It was enough to know that the recipient was doing well but she felt no need to keep in touch. The relationship could be imbalanced and she would not want the recipient to feel indebted to her.

At the time of interview, Clare was off work recovering from her operation. The specialist nurse had told her a little bit about the recipient but Clare said she would have liked to have known more.

A few months after interviewing Clare, she wrote to tell us that she’d received a letter from the recipient. She said, ‘It was the best letter. It has become my most treasured possession.’ The recipient had told her that ‘she had not looked back since the day of the transplant. She had loads more energy and could do so many more things than she could before.’

Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.


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