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Living Kidney Donation: What You Need to Know

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Posted by Antonio Di Carlo, MD, CM, FACS, FRCSC

Kidney transplant — especially from living kidney donation — is a life-saving option that has helped thousands of people with kidney failure lead normal lives. Unfortunately, of the thousands of people on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, only a small percentage will actually have a kidney transplant this year.

Living kidney donation is an option for many that helps decrease wait time and increase the chances that the recipient’s new kidney will function immediately.

As a transplant surgeon, I want to share information about being a kidney donor and how you can help save the life of a family member, friend or even someone you don’t know.

Why doesn’t everyone on the waiting list receive a kidney transplant?

The average wait for a kidney transplant is 3 to 5 years. That’s because the number of kidneys from deceased donors is limited, and many are not aware that they can safely donate one of their healthy kidneys to save someone’s life.

What’s the difference between a kidney from a deceased donor and one from a living donor?

Kidney recipients can receive a kidney from a person who has just died, or from someone who is living and healthy. Living donors have two healthy kidneys, and they choose to donate one to help save the life of a person who is in need of a kidney transplant.

What are the benefits of receiving a kidney from a living donor?

Although both types of kidney transplants are life-saving, there are benefits to receiving a kidney from a living donor. These include:

1. Shorter waiting time

The waiting list for a kidney is sometimes very long. Patients may wait 3 to 5 years or more for a deceased donor. On the other hand, if matched, living donor transplants can be performed within months.

2. Longer survival rates

Patients who receive a living kidney tend to live longer than those who receive a kidney from a deceased donor.

3. Less rejection

In general, kidneys from living donors begin to function almost immediately.

What are the benefits of being a kidney donor?

Giving the gift of life to someone can have a positive impact on your own life. And if the recipient is a friend or family member, you have the added benefit of spending quality time with them once you both heal from your surgery.

Your reasons for becoming a living kidney donor are yours alone, so you may experience personal benefits that are unique to you.

Are there risks of being a kidney donor?

Although living kidney donation is relatively safe, there are always risks with surgical procedures. These include:

1. Post-operative problems

You may experience incisional pain, infection or other problems after surgery. Be sure to keep your post-op appointments and let your doctor know if you experience pain, redness around the incision site, or fever.

2. Emotional concerns

Deciding to donate one of your kidneys is a big decision. And with that, there will often be doubts and questions. This is normal. Your donor team is there to help support you before and after the procedure.

3. Long-term effects of kidney removal

If you donate a kidney, you may experience a 20% to 30% decrease in kidney function. You will be screened prior to the procedure to ensure your remaining kidney is healthy and able to compensate for the initial loss of function. In general, kidney donors go on to lead healthy, productive lives.

What if my kidney is not compatible with the recipient?

If you choose to become a living kidney donor but your kidney is not compatible with the person you want to donate to, a program called Paired Kidney Exchange allows another donor/recipient pair to receive your kidney.

The benefit of this program is that it allows access for more people to receive life-saving living donor kidneys. Temple’s Kidney Transplant Program participates in a kidney exchange program.

Diagram that illustrates how a paired kidney exchange works.

How do I become a living kidney donor?

When you become a living kidney donor, you choose to give the gift of life to someone who has been through a challenging physical and emotional journey. Many transplant centers have living donor programs, including Temple.

If you’re interested in talking with someone at Temple about donating a kidney, contact the Temple Transplant Program at 215-707-8889.

When you call the Temple Transplant Program, you’ll speak with a living donor nurse coordinator, who will ask you a few questions about your interest and your health. You’ll then be scheduled for bloodwork and undergo a complete medical and psychosocial evaluation to see if you’re healthy enough to donate.

How old can a kidney donor be?

Anyone who is 18 years of age or older is eligible to become a living kidney donor.

Helpful Resources

Looking for more information?

Antonio Di Carlo, MD, CM, FACS, FRCSC

Dr. Di Carlo is Chief of Abdominal Organ Transplant Surgery at Temple University Hospital and Professor of Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. He is a member of several organizations including the New England Surgical Society and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, and has been recognized by Philadelphia magazine as a “Top Doctor”.

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