Living Kidney Donor Program: Save a Life; Donate Your Kidney
Did you know that your body can be perfectly healthy with just one kidney? Each year, over 5,000 people decide to donate one of their kidneys to a recipient in need. A recipient is someone who needs a kidney.
Can You Live If You Donate a Kidney?
Your body doesn't need both kidneys to do an important job—remove waste and keep your metabolism running. For these reasons, living kidney donation is the most common type of living organ donation.
Why Donate a Kidney?
Many more recipients need kidneys than are available. The national transplant waiting list has thousands of people waiting for kidneys, and many people spend years waiting. Living kidney donation increases the chances that a recipient won't die while waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor.
Transplanting kidneys from a living donor is also the best type of kidney donation.
- Kidneys from living donors last longer.
- There is a lower chance the recipient's immune system will attack the new kidney (this is called rejection).
- The recipient will need fewer and lower doses of anti-rejection medication.
Do you assume that only family members can donate a kidney? In fact, you can donate a kidney to a spouse, close friend, or someone you haven't met before. There are four types of living donations:
- Living related donation (LRD): The living donor is a blood relative (like a parent, child, or sibling).
- Living unrelated donation (LURD): The living donor is not a blood relative. These living donors can include spouses, friends, co-workers, or members of the same community.
- Living non-directed donation (NDD): This is a type of donation where the donor and recipient do not know each other. It's sometimes called an “anonymous” donation.
- Paired donation: This type of donation matches incompatible donor/recipient pairs with other incompatible donor/recipient pairs. A donor and recipient are incompatible if their blood group and tissue type don't match.
Are you considering living organ donation but are worried about costs of care? There are resources available to living donors to help remove financial barriers and assure living donors are not negatively impacted financially by their donation.
Find a Living Kidney Transplant Physician
You can have tests to become a living donor if you are healthy and between 18 and 69 years old.
People with major health problems cannot donate one of their kidneys because surgery may be too risky for them. Examples of major health problems include:
- high blood pressure,
- heart disease,
- and obesity.
Living kidney donors must also have a body mass index (BMI) of 37 or less. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a tool to help you calculate your BMI.
Finally, living kidney donors must also be mentally and emotionally healthy and willing to go through the emotional stress some donors feel after surgery and donation.
Who Can Donate?
You don't have to be related to the transplant recipient (the person who receives a donated organ) to donate a kidney.
It's true that a blood-related family member, like a sibling or a child, is more likely to be a good match than someone who's not a member of your immediate family. But most living kidney donor transplants, including kidneys that are donated from people outside your family, are usually very successful because these kidneys come from a living donor.
Living donors can also include husbands, wives, in-laws, close friends, church members, and members of the same community.
Can You Donate a Kidney Anonymously?
Yes. This type of donation is called a living non-directed donation (NDD). It means that you and the recipient of your kidney don't know each other.
To see if you meet criteria for living donation, you will need to complete a brief health screening survey. The survey will ask you questions about your:
- medical and surgical history,
- what medications you take, and
- your family medical history.
After you finish and successfully pass the screening survey, a nurse coordinator will review the survey and contact you about the next step in the evaluation process.
Selection & Matching
The transplant team will use two main tests to determine if you are a good match with a potential recipient. These tests include a blood type test and a crossmatch test. These tests are performed to determine if the recipient’s immune system has a greater chance of reacting against your donated kidney, making the recipient sick.
Blood Type Test
Your blood type needs to be compatible with the recipient’s blood type:
|Donor's Blood Type||Transplant Candidate's Blood Type|
|A or O||A|
|B or O||B|
|A, B, AB, or O||AB|
During this test, a sample of your blood is mixed with a sample of the recipient’s blood. This test determines a positive crossmatch or negative-crossmatch.
If the crossmatch is positive, the recipient’s immune system will immediately attack and destroy your kidney after you donate it. So you can only donate your kidney if this test shows a negative crossmatch.
Paired Donation Program
Blood type and crossmatch tests help determine if a recipient’s immune system will accept a new kidney. If you have a blood type that is not compatible with the recipient you planned to donate to, the paired donation program can help match you and your recipient up with another incompatible donor/recipient pair. Learn more about the paired donation program.
Before you donate a kidney, we first need to make sure you and the transplant recipient (the person who will receive your kidney) are compatible, or a good match.
Before our transplant team can determine if you can be a living kidney donor, you will need to have a series of medical tests and exams. We need to make sure you are healthy enough to handle major surgery and live the rest of your life with only one kidney.
Our transplant team needs to make sure you are not at risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure in the future. These conditions might affect how well your kidneys work over time.
What Tests Will I Need?
You will need many different tests. Your evaluation will include a complete medical history, physical exam, series of laboratory and radiology tests, and any other testing you need for medical clearance.
We will also compare your blood and tissue type against the blood and tissue types of kidney recipients who are on the transplant waiting list.
The tests and exams you will need include:
- A regular physical.
- A general health history that includes your family and social history.
- Urine tests to assess your overall health. These tests help determine how well your kidneys function.
- Blood tests tell us your blood type. You do not have to have the same blood type as your donor, but your blood type must be compatible.
- Blood tests also make sure you do not have certain infections like HIV or hepatitis that can be transferred to the recipient.
- A different blood test called tissue typing makes sure that certain proteins inside your blood (called antigens) are compatible with your recipient's antigens.
- Testing to screen for cancer.
- An evaluation by our transplant social worker. The social worker wants to be sure you are emotionally prepared for donor surgery. This evaluation is also called a psychosocial evaluation.
- A chest x-ray to check for lung or heart problems.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a painless test that shows if the electrical activity in your heart is normal. To get an EKG, doctors will place several patches with electrodes on your chest.
- A complete medical exam by a nephrologist--or kidney doctor. Nephrologists specialize in kidney problems.
- A CT scan of your kidneys. The transplant surgeon needs to make sure you have two healthy kidneys. This scan helps us determine which kidney would be best to remove.
- A blood pressure test. You will need to have your blood pressure checked two separate times before coming to our clinic. If your blood pressure is high on these occassions or when we test it in the clinic, you may need to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours at home to make sure your blood pressure is normal.
- An exam with our transplant surgeon to make sure you are a safe candidate for donation.
How Long Will Evaluation Take?
Depending on your schedule and your test results, it may take several weeks to finish all the required tests and exams.
If our transplant team find any potential health problems, you may need additional tests or exams. For example, if our doctors suspect you have a heart problem, you may need more tests to determine if your heart is healthy enough to handle donor surgery.
Who Will Evaluate Me?
Our living kidney donor specialist team includes:
- a transplant surgeon,
- a nephrologist (kidney doctor),
- a nurse coordinator,
- a social worker,
- a dietician,
- a pharmacist,
- and an Independent Living Donor Advocate (ILDA).
All of your test results for living kidney donation evaluation are strictly confidential. Test results will only be shared with you and the transplant team.
Any information in the evaluation is subject to the same regulations as medical records.
If you find out you have an infectious disease or illness that would affect your recipient's health, this information may be disclosed to local, state, or federal public health authorities. This information may also be disclosed to the recipient's transplant center and the Organ and Transplantation Network (OPTN).
Resources for Our Patients
Are you considering living organ donation but are worried about costs of care? Learn more by reading the American Society of Transplantation's Live Donor Financial Toolkit.
Independent Living Donor Advocate (ILDA)
During the entire evaluation process, the independent living donor advocate (ILDA) is available to help make sure your rights as a donor are protected.
To Start the Living Kidney Screening Process
Begin your journey towards becoming a living kidney donor.
What to Expect: Living Kidney Donation
Find out what to expect throughout the process of becoming a living kidney donor.