Living Kidney Donor

A living kidney donor is someone who voluntarily donates their kidney to someone who needs a new kidney.

A person only needs one kidney to survive. For patients who need a new kidney, finding a living donor who is willing to donate one of their kidneys is a great option.

Almost anyone can receive a living donor kidney. You just need to be compatible with the donor.

Successful living kidney transplants often come from family members but increasingly come from unrelated donors such as spouses, friends or even complete strangers.

Benefits of Living Kidney Donation

There are many benefits to receiving a living donor kidney.

Living donor kidney transplantation is the single best option for the treatment of kidney failure.

One option for individuals with advanced kidney failure but who are not yet on dialysis is called a pre-emptive transplant. This is where the recipient can receive a living donor kidney before they have to start dialysis.

Living donor transplants can be planned ahead of time, allowing for preparations for the recipient to be in the best state of health possible prior to transplant. The donor and recipient can agree on a date that accommodates their schedule best and they can prepare for the upcoming surgery.

Most importantly, a living donor kidney usually works immediately and lasts longer with better kidney function than deceased donor kidneys. This allows the recipient to feel better and have a higher quality of life. On average a living donor kidney can last as long as 15-20 years as compared to 8-12 years with deceased donor kidneys.

Living Kidney Donors – Initial Steps

Dr. Amber Reeves-Daniel talks about the initial steps of the transplant process and what to expect. 

Paired Kidney Donations

Approximately one third of all willing living kidney donors are not compatible with their intended recipient because of differences in their immune systems or because they have incompatible blood types.

One way of overcoming incompatibility between donors and recipients is with paired kidney donation. When a paired kidney exchange (also known as a kidney swap) is performed, 2 incompatible living donor/recipient pairs exchange kidneys with each other. Two living donor transplants are performed, as shown in the figure below. Living Donor Kidney Swap

In other words, the pairs swap kidney donors so that each recipient can receive a kidney from a donor with whom they are compatible. All medically eligible donor/recipient pairs may participate in paired kidney exchanges. In some cases, additional donor/recipient pairs may be used to increase the chances that multiple matches will be achieved.

Becoming a Living Kidney Donor

To become a living kidney donor, you must be voluntarily willing to donate a kidney to someone. You need to be at least 18, but preferably into your 20s if there is a family history of kidney disease.

Potential living donors are required to be healthy individuals. You cannot have diabetes or chronic medical conditions. You need to have a healthy body weight for your age. You also need a strong support system to help you recover after your surgery.

The following conditions would make you unsuitable for kidney donation:

  • Diabetes
  • Vascular or cardiac disease
  • Obesity BMI greater than 35
  • Active substance abuse
  • Active infection: TB, HIV, hepatitis B or C
  • Active malignancy or history of melanoma
  • Recurrent kidney stones

Once compatibility has been determined, which can be done with simple blood tests, a medical evaluation will be conducted to determine your suitability as a donor.

If you are incompatible with the person you wish to donate your kidney to, but are otherwise suitable for donation, you could participate in a paired kidney donation.

Independent Living Donor Advocate

All potential donors are reviewed and evaluated individually by a separate donor team to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. This team ensures donor safety before, during and after surgery.

The Independent Living Donor Advocate (ILDA) serves as an independent member of the transplantation team. The ILDA focuses their work to ensure that you, the donor, have a working understanding of donation evaluation, pre-surgical, surgical and post-surgical processes.

Becoming a Living Kidney Donor: Financial Information

If you are interested in becoming a living kidney donor, you should have a full understanding of the immediate and future, direct and indirect financial responsibilities of participation in the donation process.

Medical Costs

All costs associated with your evaluation as a potential donor (physical examinations, laboratory blood tests, X-rays, scans, imagining, surgery and any necessary post-donation discharge medications) are paid by the transplant recipient’s medical insurance. Required donor follow-up appointments are also covered.

Health and Life Insurance

Your current or future ability to obtain health and life insurance generally should not be affected by kidney donation. However, there have been instances of donor reported increases in health, disability, or life insurance premiums, or being denied for future insurance.

Your current or future ability to obtain health and life insurance generally should not be affected by kidney donation. However, there have been instances of donor reported increases in health, disability, or life insurance premiums, or being denied for future insurance.

It is recommended that you talk with your insurance carrier before committing to donation.

If you encounter any problems obtaining health or life insurance after donating a kidney, you should contact the Abdominal Organ Transplant Program so that we can to assist.

Non-Medical Costs

It is important to remember that there are costs associated with donation that are not covered by your insurance, the transplant recipient’s insurance, or by the Abdominal Organ Transplant Program. Such costs include: food, lodging, transportation to and from the transplant center both pre- and post-donation, long distance phone calls, and child care and lost wages.

Employment and Income

Being out of work for the time necessary for evaluation, surgery and recovery could result in financial problems. Whoever serves as your caregiver during the recovery process could also face potential lost wages. If employed, talk with your employer about any existing leave policies before committing to donation.

No Financial Compensation Provided for Donation

The sale or purchase of human organs is a federal crime and it is unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration such as cash, property, or vacations for use in human transplantation.

It is important that you understand that there is no monetary benefit for the donation of a kidney. While it is illegal in the U.S. to financially benefit from donation, financial support without profiting is allowed in order to offset potential costs that may be associated with donation such as lodging and travel.

Financial Concerns and Questions

All financial concerns regarding donation should be discussed fully with the Abdominal Organ Transplant Program living donation team.

You may also consider contacting the National Living Donor Assistance Center at 703-414-1600. Through an individual application process, the NLDAC can provide potential assistance to reduce costs associated with living donation.