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Living kidney donor frequently asked questions

Learn more about the special, life-saving gift of donating a kidney to those in need.

January 26, 2024

What are the different types of kidney transplants?

There are two types of kidney transplants – deceased and living donor transplants. Deceased donor kidneys come from people who have died in motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, strokes, or heart attacks. Living donor kidneys come from altruistic, healthy individuals. These individuals could be related or unrelated to the recipient and undergo rigorous testing to ensure they can donate safely.

Why should I become a living kidney donor?

Living donation is the ultimate gift. Donating an organ and allowing another person to live a longer, more fulfilled life is a uniquely selfless and rewarding experience. Studies have shown that living kidney donors have a higher quality of life and a greater sense of well-being when compared to siblings who were unable to donate. A special bond is formed between a recipient and donor and continues to grow after transplant. Donors are “real life” heroes. If you know someone in need of a kidney transplant and are interested in learning more about the process, the following information sheds some light on how unique your lifesaving gift could be.

Why is a living donor kidney better?

Living donor kidneys are the preferred option over deceased donors for 2 significant reasons:

  • Most people wait 3-5 years on the waitlist for a deceased donor kidney. A living donor transplant can be scheduled within months if a healthy, suitable donor is available. If planned correctly, dialysis can sometimes be avoided altogether.
  • Living donor kidneys last longer than deceased donor kidneys. On average, a deceased donor kidney transplant lasts 8-12 years, while a living donor transplant lasts 15-20 years.

Am I a candidate to donate? How do I begin the living donor evaluation?

First, you must complete the online living donor health screen to see if you qualify to proceed with the next steps. One of the Living Donor Nurse Coordinators will let you know if you can proceed and will explain the evaluation process. If able to proceed, you will undergo a thorough medical evaluation to make sure it is safe for you to donate. The multidisciplinary team will then make a collaborative decision regarding your donor candidacy. This entire process is strictly confidential and is not shared with the recipient.

What is my financial responsibility?

The recipient’s insurance covers the donor’s medical evaluation, surgery, and donation-related follow-up. Travel expenses, lodging, and lost wages from taking time off from work are not reimbursed. However, assistance programs are available for those who qualify if you anticipate having trouble covering your expenses. Our Financial Coordinators and Social Workers can help you through this process.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Living Kidney Donation

What are the risks of being a kidney donor?

The risk of death for a living kidney donor is low – on average, there are 3 deaths for every 10,000 living donor surgeries performed. Surgical complications are very low as well, less than 3%. The typical complications are similar to those with general surgery, such as urinary tract infections, wound infections, bleeding, blood clots in your legs that can go to the lungs, or pneumonia.

Will donating a kidney shorten my lifespan or increase my risk for kidney disease?

On the contrary, data has shown that living kidney donors live longer than the general population. Some studies have shown this may be due to a selection bias; people who donate a kidney are some of the healthiest. Thus, they should be expected to live longer than the average person. However, new studies have shown that kidney donors are at a slightly higher risk for kidney disease, although this risk could be mitigated by following a healthy lifestyle after donation.

What if my remaining kidney fails?

Although this complication is infrequent, the United Network for Organ Sharing has a policy for this. Prior living donors who subsequently need a kidney transplant are placed near the top of the deceased donor list and thus receive a kidney sooner than non-donors.

How long does the surgery take? How long will I be in the hospital? When can I go back to work?

The surgery lasts about 2-3 hours. The typical length of stay is 3 days. Most donors return to work in about 2-6 weeks.

What if I change my mind about donating?

As potential donors undergo the evaluation, sometimes it becomes clear that a living donation is not the right choice for a particular individual. Donor candidates can opt out of the process AT ANY TIME. This is kept strictly confidential from the recipient.

How will my life be different after donating a kidney?

Living donors perform essentially all the same activities as they could before donation. An active lifestyle, including running, biking, skiing, swimming, etc., is encouraged. Activities to avoid would include but are not limited to, full-contact sports such as football, karate, hockey, skiing between trees, or anything that might lead to severe blunt trauma to the remaining kidney. Ultramarathons, Ironman events, or any other endurance-related activity that may lead to extreme dehydration should be discussed with your provider beforehand.

Can I donate my kidney to someone unrelated to me?

Yes. Some barriers, regardless of the relationship to the recipient, include blood type incompatibility, size and/or age discrepancy, and recipient antibodies against the donor. However, there is the option for donation via paired exchange for those not compatible with the intended recipient. You could ask one of the Living Donor Nurse Coordinators for additional information about the paired exchange program.

January 26, 2024
Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center