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What Is a Living Kidney Donation?

Did you know that your body can stay healthy with just one kidney? Because of this, kidney donations are one of the most common types of living organ donations.

Around 6,500 people donate one of their kidneys to a recipient in need each year. A recipient is someone who needs a kidney.

Financial Assistance for Kidney Donors

You do not get paid to donate a kidney. In fact, it is illegal to pay someone for a kidney donation.

However, if you are concerned about the costs of medical care associated with donating a kidney, you may qualify for donor benefits. Donor benefits are reimbursements to assist you with the costs associated with kidney donation. Learn more about donor benefits:

There are multiple resources available to living donors that can help remove financial barriers and ensure living donors are not negatively impacted financially by their donation.

Find a Living Kidney Transplant Physician

Why Donate a Kidney?

The national transplant waiting list has tens of thousands of people waiting for kidneys, and many people spend years waiting. Some of these patients eventually receive transplants from deceased donors. But some become ineligible while waiting or even die while on the waiting list.

Many more recipients need kidneys than are available. Living kidney donation offers immediate access to a donor organ and 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. You get a range of benefits with living donor transplants:

  • Lower chance that the recipient’s immune system will attack (reject) the new kidney
  • Longer-lasting transplant
  • The potential of fewer and lower doses of anti-rejection medication
  • A better chance of a biological match than from a deceased donor

Types of Living Organ Donations

You may have assumed you can only donate a kidney to a family member. In fact, you can donate a kidney to a spouse, close friend, or a stranger.

There are four types of living donations:

  1. Living related donation (LRD): The living donor is a blood relative, such as a parent, child, or sibling.
  2. Living unrelated donation (LURD): The living donor is not a blood relative. The donor-recipient pair may include spouses, friends, co-workers, or members of the same community.
  3. Living non-directed donation (NDD): This is a type of anonymous donation where the donor and recipient do not know each other. A living NDD usually helps more than one recipient by creating a chain of transplants that allows multiple people to receive a good match.
  4. Paired donation: This type of donation matches donors and recipients who know each other with compatible donors and recipients they may not know. A donor and recipient are incompatible if their blood and tissue types don't match.

Can You Donate a Kidney and Still Live?

Yes, people in overall good health can donate a kidney and still live. Your medical team assesses your eligibility to make sure your remaining kidney is enough to remove waste from your body and keep your metabolism running.

Living Kidney Donor Requirements

Adults ages 18–69 may have a screening to find out if they are able to donate a kidney. Generally, you must be in good overall health. Living kidney donors also need to be emotionally and mentally healthy to withstand the stress that some people feel after surgery and donation.

Some people may not be good candidates to donate a kidney if they have major health problems that would make surgery risky:

How to Donate a Kidney

The first step to donating a kidney is to complete a Living Donor Program health history questionnaire. This screening asks you about your health history, family history, and current medications. A nurse coordinator will reach out to you within a few days to discuss your answers and next steps.

Living Kidney Donor Process

After your initial questionnaire, you will have blood tests to ensure you are healthy enough to undergo major surgery and live with only one kidney. You will have a series of tests and exams:

  • A general physical and health history intake
  • A full medical exam with a nephrology expert (kidney specialist) and a surgeon from transplant services
  • Blood tests to screen for underlying conditions and check your blood type and donor compatibility
  • Blood pressure screening
  • Imaging, including a chest X-ray to look for heart or lung problems, a CT scan of your kidneys, and an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart’s electrical activity
  • Psychosocial evaluation to evaluate whether you’re emotionally prepared for the procedure
  • Urine tests to evaluate how well your kidneys function

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).

How Long Does Kidney Donor Testing Take?

The process of kidney donor testing may take between four and eight weeks, starting from when you first submit your health history questionnaire.

What Are the Odds of Being a Kidney Donor Match?

The odds of being a kidney donor match to someone are very high, although you may not be a match for your loved one. We use two main tests to determine how good of a match you are for a potential recipient. Blood type tests and cross-match tests help us understand the risk of a recipient reacting to or rejecting the donor kidney.

In the past, we used these tests to find out if you were a good donor match for a specific recipient, usually a family member or friend. Now, with paired donation, we can match the most compatible donors and recipients with each other.

We always recommend participating in the Paired Donation Program, even if you have a compatible blood type with your loved one. The program allows us to pair the most biologically compatible donors and matches based on multiple factors such as blood type, tissue type, and body size. This helps us optimize the matching process so that as many people as possible pair with a compatible donor. The better biological match may result in a lower long-term risk of cancer and infection in the recipient, as anti-rejection drug doses can be decreased over time.

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Resources for Our Patients

Financial Resources

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.

View the 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.

Meet the Independent Living Donor Advocate

To Start the Living Kidney Screening Process

Begin your journey towards becoming a living kidney donor.

Start the Process

What to Expect: Living Kidney Donation

Find out what to expect throughout the process of becoming a living kidney donor.

Read the Guide

Meet Our Patients & Donors

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