General Information on Living Donation

What is living donation?

Living donation takes place when a living person donates an organ (or part of an organ) for transplantation to another person. The living donor can be a family member, such as a parent, child, brother or sister (living related donation).

Living donation can also come from someone who doesn’t have an emotional relationship with the recipient, such as a friend of a friend, coworker, fellow member at their place of worship, neighbor or someone that hears through social media. Thanks to improved medications, a genetic link between the donor and recipient is no longer required to ensure a successful transplant. You don’t even need to have the same blood type as your potential donor to get a kidney because there are internal paired exchange programs within transplant centers and national paired exchange programs that allow an incompatible pair to match up with another incompatible pair; allowing the two donors to switch recipients.

Visit the Programs for Donor/Recipient Pairs with Incompatible Blood Types page to learn more about paired exchange programs.

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What organs can come from living donors?

The organ most commonly given by a living donor is the kidney. Parts of other organs including the lung, liver and pancreas are now being transplanted from living donors.

Who can be a living kidney donor?

You must be at least 18 years old at all transplant centers. Some centers require a donor to be 21 or a little older. There are some medical conditions that could prevent you from being a living donor. These include having uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, or acute infections. You should always let the transplant center decide if you can be a living donor.

What are the advantages of living donation over deceased donation?

Kidney transplants performed from living donors may have several advantages compared to transplants performed from deceased donors:

  1. Some living donor transplants are done between family members who are genetically similar. A better genetic match lessens the risk of rejection.
  2. A kidney from a living donor usually functions immediately, because the kidney is out of the body for a very short time. Some deceased donor kidneys do not function immediately, and as a result, the patient may require dialysis until the kidney starts to function.
  3. Potential donors can be tested ahead of time to find the donor who is most compatible with the recipient. The transplant can take place at a time convenient for both the donor and recipient.

How do I donate a kidney?

If you have two healthy kidneys, you may be able to donate one to improve or even save someone else’s life. There are two main types of living donation:

Directed donation
This is when the donor names a specific person who will receive the kidney. It is the most common type of living donation. Directed donations are often between blood relatives, like parents, siblings, or children. They can also occur between people with close personal relationships, such as a spouse, friend, or coworker. Visit the How to Donate page to learn more.
Nondirected donation
This is when a person does not name a specific person who will get the kidney. In this case, the donor is paired with someone in need. Visit the How to Donate page to learn more.

Are transplants from living donors always successful?

Although transplantation is highly successful, and success rates continue to improve, there is still a small chance that problems may occur. Sometimes, the kidney is lost to rejection, surgical complications or the original disease that caused the recipient's kidney to fail. Talk to the transplant center staff about their success rates and the national success rates.

How long does a transplanted kidney last?

On average, a kidney from a living donor lasts about 15 to 20 years.Some will last longer; others might last less.

Where can I find statistics related to living donation?

You can find some statistics on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) website. UNOS compiles statistics on every transplant center in the United States. You can find statistics on the number of non-living and living donor transplants performed at that particular center, respectively, and the graft survival rates for the transplant recipient.

The best source of information on expected donor outcomes is from your transplant team. Talk with them about general risks including long and short term, as well as any specific concerns you have regarding your personal health status.

Visit the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Data page for detailed statistics on short-term complications from living donation (as reported to the United Network for Organ Sharing).

Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients for number of living donor transplants performed at specific centers.

Living donation & COVID-19

Find answers about living donation during the COVID-19 outbreak on the What you need to know about COVID-19 in 2022 page.

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NKF Cares is a free, confidential hotline with trained professionals ready to answer your questions or concerns. Our peer-mentoring program, NKF PEERS, connects anyone affected by kidney disease with an informed and supportive mentor who has already been through the process.