Donors: Your New-Normal Numbers Are Just Fine

Being well informed about living donation before you donate a kidney is obviously extremely important, but it doesn’t stop there. Continuing to be well informed is not only good for your physical health but your mental health as well.

Through social media donor support groups, I continue to hear of some donors being told that they have stage 3 chronic kidney disease, purely on the basis of their eGFR (an estimated formula for kidney function). One stunned donor said she cried all night. Before you conclude that her “disease” was a result of kidney donation, I hasten to add that she and other such donors usually have normal kidney function and no kidney disease. In other words, as researchers have demonstrated, in the absence of other factors, donors’ slightly low readings are just the new normal for them. That’s particularly true in the months following donation, and their readings may well improve.

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These donors’ primary care providers—and sometimes even nephrologists—were referring to a scale based on people with two kidneys and/or diseased kidneys. Donors lose 25% to 35% of their pre-donation kidney function, but that’s still sufficient to lead a healthy normal life. It’s meaningless and patently wrong to look at the numbers in a vacuum and say that these people have chronic kidney disease.

As we get older, no matter how many kidneys we have, our kidney function declines. It’s especially common for people over 70, like me, to have a slightly low eGFR. However, at my last check-up, 14 years after donating my kidney to my son, my eGFR was 69 (normal for anyone is over 60).

So, if you are a kidney donor, don’t be alarmed at news of a slightly high eGFR. Ask questions (how long has it been in that range? what’s my creatinine?), and always remind your provider that you have one kidney. If they’re still unconvinced, refer them to a paper that makes it clear that low GFR does not mean kidney disease in donors.

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