What is Living Organ Donation?

The United States is experiencing a critical shortage in organ donation. More than 109,000 children and adults are on a transplant list in America at any given time, and more than 6,000 will die every year as they wait for help. Donations from deceased people help, but they aren’t nearly enough – only 3 in 1,000 people die in such a way that makes their organs usable for donation, and only 60% of Americans are registered as organ donors.

Living organ donation is the process of undergoing a surgical procedure to remove an organ like a kidney or a portion of your liver, and place it into a recipient. While we’ve all heard stories of people donating a kidney to a relative or friend, non-directed living donation means that you don’t know who will wind up benefiting from your act. This is an act of generosity and care that can be performed by many healthy people over the age of 18.           


Living donation can help fill the glaring gap in usable organs that save lives and families. Donating a kidney grants you and your family access to the transplant list if any of them should ever need one, and if you donate a portion of your liver it completely grows back to its normal size within a year. The surgeries are surprisingly non-invasive, and most donors are out of the hospital in a few days and continue to recuperate for several weeks afterwards.

A kidney donation in particular from a non-directed donor can spark a “chain” of donors that can save many more lives. Since a non-directed donor doesn’t need a kidney in return, they are a natural “end” to these chains and fulfill a vital role. Their good deed can be paid forward many times over.

LIVER DONATION                

Donating a portion of your liver can be a more strenuous procedure than donating a kidney, but it’s aided by the human body’s incredible resilience. A piece of the organ is excised and placed into the donor, where it grows to full size. The portion of the donor’s liver that is removed depends on both their own anatomy as well as the age of the recipient. The donor’s liver regains its full functionality within a month, and regenerates back to its full size within a year.

Donors who receive a liver transplant from a living donor are less likely to have complications than those who receive one from a deceased donor, so living donation can offer much in the way of an improved quality of life for recipients.

Graphic credit: UW Medicine Transplant Care

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