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Can You Live With One Kidney?

When most of us think about kidney donation, we think of checking a box on our driver’s license in case of an accident. But you don’t have to be deceased to donate a kidney. Being a living kidney donor is actually more common—and safe—than you might think.

Living kidney donations save thousands of lives each year. What do you know about being a living kidney donor?

Facts About Being a Living Kidney Donor

1. Living kidney donation is the best option for people who need a new kidney. 

Many living donors don't want their loved ones to wait months or even years for a kidney on the national transplant waiting list. Transplant surgeons have successfully performed living kidney donation surgeries since the 1950s. In fact, donating a kidney is the most common living organ donation.

2. Living kidney donation is safe. 

If you are healthy, donating a kidney won't make you more likely to get sick or have major health problems. Like any surgery, the procedure does have some risks. But overall, living kidney donation is safe. In most cases, donating a kidney will not not raise your risk of kidney disease, diabetes, or other health problems.

3. You don't have to be related to someone to donate a kidney to them. 

In fact, one in four living organ donors is not biologically related to the recipient (the person who receives a donated organ). Spouses, in-laws, close friends, church members, and even members of the same community can all be living donors.

It's true that family members have a higher chance of being a good match. But living donor transplants are more successful compared to kidneys from deceased donors because these kidneys come from living donors.

4. You don't need both of your kidneys to stay healthy. 

It might surprise you to learn that your body doesn't need two kidneys to perform an important job--removing waste and regulating your metabolism. After donating, your remaining kidney will take on the work of both kidneys.

5. Your blood and tissue type must be compatible with your recipient's. 

Besides being healthy, living donors must have compatible blood and tissue types with the kidney recipient. The transplant team will perform tests to see if your blood and tissues are compatible (are a healthy match) with the kidney recipient. If they aren't, our living donor program can also educate you about the paired donation program.

6. You will have tests, screening, and evaluation to make sure you're a good match. 

The transplant team will perform psychosocial and medical tests to help ensure you will stay healthy after your donation. Some tests you will have include:

  • blood tests,
  • urine tests,
  • imaging exams, and
  • cancer screenings.

7. Your hospital stay will be short and you can get back to work fairly quickly. 

Most living kidney donors stay in the hospital for zero to one day. Depending on what you do for work, you can return to work as soon as two weeks or as late as eight weeks after your surgery. You also shouldn't lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the first six weeks after your surgery.

8. You can still have a baby. 

Donating a kidney won't make it harder for you to get pregnant or deliver a baby. Living kidney donation doesn't cause fertility problems in women or men. Still, women should wait one year after donating a kidney before they get pregnant. This gives your body plenty of time to heal.

9. You can talk to someone who's donated before. 

Our living kidney donor program can help you speak with someone from our program who has donated a kidney. Donors often find it's helpful to talk with another donor about their experiences.

10. You don't need to live in the same location as your recipient. 

You can live anywhere in the country. Most of your testing can be done at a lab or hospital near your home. Your surgery will take place at the University of Utah Health. There are also organizations that can help you pay for travel costs.

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Donate a Kidney—Save a Life

If you’d like to be a living kidney donor, are healthy, and are between the ages of 18–69, contact a member of our living kidney donor team. Remember, living kidney donation saves lives.

Financial Assistance

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 Surgeon

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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