• By Heather Carlson Kehren

Expert Alert: The ultimate gift — 5 things to know about being a living kidney donor

December 5, 2019

ROCHESTER, Minn. — It's not often that people are given the chance to give someone the gift of life, but that is exactly what being a living kidney donor offers. More than 6,400 people chose to be a living kidney donor in the U.S. in 2018, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Sadly, the number of people in need of a lifesaving transplant far exceeds the number of donors. More than 95,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant.

For patients in need of a transplant, finding a living kidney donor is usually their best option, according to Mikel Prieto, M.D., a Mayo Clinic transplant surgeon.

"Patients on average wait five years for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor," Dr. Prieto says. "That long wait is especially difficult for patients who are often undergoing dialysis multiple times a week. And the longer a patient waits for a kidney, the more likely their health will continue to deteriorate."

Here are five things that you should know about being a living kidney donor:

1. You don't have to be related to someone to be a donor.

Anyone can be a living kidney donor. You can consider donating a kidney to a relative, friend, acquaintance or stranger. All potential donors undergo a thorough medical evaluation to make sure that they are suitable for donation. Living donors must be 18 or older, and be in good overall physical and mental health.

2. Want to donate to someone, but you're not a match? There is another option.

Sometimes a potential donor who wants to give to a family member or friend isn't the best match for that recipient. In those situations, paired donation is considered. Donors and recipients are matched with other donors and recipients, creating a so-called "kidney chain."

3. You don't have to know someone in need of a transplant to be a donor.

For people who want to help someone in need of a kidney but don't have a particular recipient in mind, they can elect a nondirected donation, which is also known as an altruistic or "Good Samaritan" donation. The transplant program will match their kidney based on medical and immunological compatibility.

4. Living kidney donation surgery is minimally invasive.

When donating a kidney, donors undergo laparoscopic surgery — a procedure that involves making a few small incisions instead of a larger one. This type of surgery reduces recovery time. Medical costs associated with donation are covered by the recipient's insurance. Most kidney donors return to their normal activities or job within a few weeks of donating a kidney, Dr. Prieto says. As with any surgery, there are risks, and it is important for potential donors to discuss those with their doctor.

5. Research finds living kidney donors live as long if not longer than nondonors.

To be a donor in the first place, an individual must be considered healthy. If a living kidney donor is in need of a kidney transplant later in life, the living kidney donor is given priority status to shorten the time on the transplant waiting list.

"We know that patients who receive a kidney from a living donor have better short- and long-term outcomes than those who don't. Living kidney donation gives patients with end-stage kidney disease the best opportunity to return to a full and productive life," Dr. Prieto says.

Mayo Clinic has several transplant physicians who can talk about living kidney donation, including:

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About Mayo Clinic
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