Living Kidney Donation

Overview of Living Kidney Donation

A living kidney donation occurs when a living person donates one healthy kidney to another person who is in need of a kidney transplant.  Since one healthy kidney can do the work of two, both the donor and recipient can go on to lead normal, healthy lives.

Kidneys are the most common need among people requiring an organ transplant; 85% of those on the national transplant waiting list need a kidney.   Kidneys are also the most common organs given by living donors.  The donor matching process has dramatically improved since the first successful living kidney donation was performed in 1954, and transplant procedures have become safer and less invasive with shorter recovery times.

Living kidney donors may be related to the recipients, but successful matches no longer require a genetic link.  Living kidney donors may be spouses, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even strangers.  Donors must be at least 18 years of age, and in good physical and mental health with normal kidney function. Although certain health conditions may prevent some people from becoming kidney donors, only a transplant center can determine eligibility based on standard screenings and evaluations. If you’re interested in becoming a kidney donor, let medical professionals help you.

Living kidney donation has several advantages over deceased kidney donation.  First, a kidney transplant from a living donor has a greater likelihood of success, both immediately after transplant and long-term.  Second, transplant from a living kidney donor allows time for screening to make the best possible match, and the donated organ is healthier as a result of a planned, scheduled transplant.  Finally, living kidney donation greatly expands the number of potential donors, helping to meet the critical shortfall of healthy kidneys – and thus giving life to those on the waiting list!

Our Collaboration with the National Kidney Donation Organization

EMS Gives Life is proud to collaborate with the National Kidney Donation Organization® (NKDO) to promote best practices in living kidney donation for both living donors and transplant recipients.  Founded in 2015, the NKDO is the premier kidney donation advocacy group in the United States, dedicated to education and advocacy for innovative kidney donation practices, and committed to ensuring that donors receive all available protections.  By adopting approaches that the NKDO has developed in partnership with the National Kidney Registry®, EMS Gives Life is working to raise awareness and assist both potential kidney donors and those in need of a transplant develop plans that ensure the best possible outcomes.   We strongly encourage those who are considering living kidney donation, either for a specific recipient or a stranger, to register with the National Kidney Registry® through the NKDO website.  EMS Gives Life can walk you through the steps to get you the best information about availabile resources and protections.

Types of Living Kidney Donation

There are two types of living kidney donations – directed and non-directed. 

Directed Donation

The most common type of donation, this occurs when the living donor identifies a specific recipient to receive the donated kidney.  The recipient is often a close family member, friend, or coworker.  Potential donors must be tested to determine if they are a match to the identified recipient.

Directed Donation

Non-directed Donation

Also known as anonymous or altruistic donation, this occurs when the living donor does not name an intended recipient.  The donor’s intent is that the kidney donation should go to whichever potential recipient is the best match.  

Non-directed Donation

If a kidney donor is eligible to donate but is not a match for the directed recipient, the directed donation can be shifted to what is called a “paired kidney exchange.”  The kidney donor is now paired with a different recipient who also has an incompatible donor but who is compatible with the original directed donor’s intended recipient.  In this way, both recipients can receive a viable kidney donation as the donors intended – and two lives are saved!

Non-directed donation is also a highly effective strategy, offering an amazing opportunity to start what is called a “kidney donor chain.” The healthy kidney of the non-directed donor goes to a recipient who has a willing donor but incompatible with his/her own medical profile.  That second donor then gives his/her kidney to another recipient with a willing but incompatible donor… and on it goes in a virtuous cyle of life-saving altruism.

Best Practice Approach to Donating A Kidney to A Specific Recipient

Most often a potential kidney donor is prompted by the organ transplant need of a family member, friend, or co-worker. In other cases a potential donor hears a stranger’s story and is compelled to act.  While both of these situations may invite directed donations, a better approach can be the combined use of non-directed donation and the standard voucher program through the National Kidney Registry®.  This innovative strategy, promoted by the NKDO, has several specific benefits:

  • Prioritized Eligibility Evaluation. Non-directed donors will be evaluated for eligibility more quickly, which benefits kidney recipients and adds convenience for donors.
  • Remote Evaluation & Surgery. Donors have the option to complete evaluation and surgery at a local NKR-affiliated transplant center, regardless of where the recipient is being treated.  Remote donation allows for safe transport of the kidney from donor to the recipient, saving both parties the stress and expense of travel.
  • Donor Preferred Scheduling. Donors can undergo evaluation and surgery on their own schedule at an NKR-affiliated transplant facility closest to home.
  • Best Kidney Match. Non-directed donors’ kidneys will be given to transplant recipients who are the best match, greatly increasing the odds of both immediate and long-term transplant success.
  • Voucher for Kidney Prioritization. Donors receive a standard voucher that can be directed to a person of their choice who is in imminent need of a kidney transplant.  The recipient can activate that voucher when they are ready for transplant surgery.  This flexibility is perhaps the most innovative aspect of this approach in comparison to traditional directed donation.
  • Transplant Recipient Priority Matching. When the recipient is ready for transplant and activates the voucher, they will be prioritized for the best matched living donor through the NKR.

All told, this best practice approach generates the best possible outcomes for donors and recipients alike under the current kidney donation system.

5 Common Questions & Concerns

How do I know if I am eligible to donate a kidney?   Transplant specialists will conduct a number of screenings and tests to ensure that you are healthy enough to donate.  These include both medical examinations and psychological evaluations.  Blood and tissue typing is also conducted to determine which recipient would be the best match.  Anyone who is in good health, with two normally functioning kidneys, and an interest in being a donor should sign up for further evaluation by a medical team.  EMS Gives Life will gladly assist you in completing an initial screening to determine if you qualify for further evaluation.

What happens if my remaining kidney fails?  What if a loved one needs a kidney in the future and I don’t have one to give?  EMS Gives Life will work with living donors to make sure they register with programs that offer specific donor protections, such as being given priority for a living donor kidney transplant in the unlikely event that you ever need a kidney transplant in the future.  For those choosing to become non-directed donors, EMS Gives Life will assist you in accessing a family voucher for future kidney transplant needs that might occur in your immediate family.  In other words, if you donate now, your family member will become a priority transplant candidate should that need arise.  We will work with you to understand all of the donor protections available and how to access them.

What happens if I live far away from the recipient?  Do I have to travel to the recipient in order to donate a kidney?  Remote donation enables both the donor and the recipient to be treated at their nearest National Kidney Registry (NKR)® affiliated transplant center that participates in the remote donation network.  For remote directed, paired exchange or non-directed standard voucher donations, both the recipient and donor must be treated at an NKR-affiliated transplant center.  EMS Gives Life can assist you in identifying the participating medical facilities nearest to you.

Are there any out-of-pocket costs for donors?  Costs associated with the medical expenses of evaluation, testing, surgery, and immediate post-operative care are typically covered by the recipient’s health insurance.  Expenses such as lost wages, travel, and lodging are not covered by insurance.  If your employer provides disability coverage, you will likely be entitled to disability pay.  Several need-based programs exist to reimburse donors for typical out-of-pocket expenses.  Donors who donate as part of a National Kidney Registry® paired exchange, through a standard voucher program, or through a participating transplant center’s Donor Shield Direct program will be protected by their Donor Shield protections.  EMS Gives Life will work with potential donors in any way we can to remove financial obstacles to living kidney donation.

What is involved in the surgery?  How long is the recovery period?   Kidney removal surgery is most often done laparoscopically in the most non-invasive manner.  On rare occasions, open incision surgery is preferred.  Hospital stays typically range from 3 to 6 days.  Donors will have some physical limitations for about 6 weeks while the body heals.  Depending on the physical demands of their work, donors may need to arrange light-duty alternatives for a period of time determined by the doctor.  Most donors return to a normal life within 2 to 3 months after surgery.

Ready to learn more?

We’ll make time to answer your questions and help you make the connections needed to explore becoming a living kidney donor.  Contact us!

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