General Information on Living Donation

Living donation & COVID-19

Find answers about living donation during the COVID-19 outbreak here.

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 is emotionally related to the recipient, such as a good friend, spouse or an in-law (living unrelated donation). Thanks to improved medications, a genetic link between the donor and recipient is no longer required to ensure a successful transplant.

In some cases, living donation may even be from a stranger, which is called anonymous or non-directed donation.

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?

To donate a kidney, you must be in good physical and mental health.As a general rule, you should be 18 years or older.You must also have normal kidney function.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.Having a serious mental health condition that requires treatment may also prevent you from being a 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.

Are there different types of living donation?

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. For more information, click here.
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. For more information, click here.

Are transplants from living donors always successful?

Although transplantation is highly successful, and success rates continue to improve, 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) web site. UNOS compiles statistics on every transplant center in the United States. To view all UNOS data, click here. 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.

Click here for detailed statistics on short-term complications from living donation (as reported to the United Network for Organ Sharing).

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About NKF Cares
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.