For many of us, it’s hard to ask for help. So imagine what it would be like to ask a family member or friend for a kidney. Being a living kidney donor is a big decision, but there have been tens of thousands of these donors in the U.S. since 1954, when the first successful living donor transplant was done.
Living kidney transplants have advantages over kidneys that come from the deceased, and they benefit the entire donation system.
Are you a possible donor? Here’s some basic information to get you thinking about it.
Who’s eligible to donate?
People who are diagnosed with end-stage renal disease must go on dialysis. Many of these people also qualify for kidney transplants because they are otherwise largely healthy. In the case of both deceased and living kidney transplants:
• Donors can be related or unrelated to the recipient.
• Donors and recipients must have compatible blood types.
Living kidney donors must be well informed, motivated and healthy. At the Swedish Organ Transplant Center, donors go through a rigorous screening process that includes diagnostic tests and meetings with health professionals, including a doctor, nurse, social worker and dietitian.
Living versus deceased transplants
Nationwide, there are about 100,000 people waiting for a kidney. And if their only option is a deceased kidney, they usually must wait years for a transplant. A living donor can shorten the wait to a matter of months, but there also are other advantages to receiving a living kidney:
• Most of the time a kidney from a living donor starts to work and make urine immediately.
• A kidney from a living donor lasts longer than a kidney from a deceased donor.
• A living kidney transplant takes a recipient off the deceased donor list. This means that someone on the deceased donor list who does not have a living donor will receive a deceased donor kidney sooner.
• Those who receive living kidneys recover more quickly after surgery than those who receive deceased donor kidneys.
Not a match?
In the simplest scenario, a donor and the intended recipient are a match, and the process is fairly straightforward. When they aren’t a match, a “paired exchange transplant” is possible.
In this situation, a living donor and recipient who are incompatible trade kidney donation with another incompatible couple. Both transplant candidates then receive a kidney from a compatible living donor.
There are times in this scenario when even more than two transplants can be arranged.
Helping a stranger
If you’re interested in donating a kidney but don’t know someone who needs one, you can become a “benevolent,” or “non-directed,” kidney donor. These kinds of donations can lead to a “kidney chain”:
A living donor gives a kidney to a stranger who has an incompatible donor. The incompatible donor then gives a kidney to another stranger. The process can be replicated again and again, creating chains that crisscross the country as people pay it forward with the help of a computer program that matches people nationally.
Two heroes’ stories
If you can’t donate a kidney …
Some people can’t donate a kidney due to health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
If you’re one of those people, think about becoming a “living donor champion.” A champion serves as an advocate for a kidney recipient and speaks with family members, friends and members of the community about the recipient’s need for a transplant.