There are 2 options for a kidney transplant:
To get a kidney from a deceased donor, you must be active on a deceased donor transplant waitlist. Even if you prefer a kidney from a living donor, make sure your name is on the waitlist so that you have that option. Once you are added, you may receive an organ fairly quickly or you may have to wait for years.
The average wait is between 3 to 5 years at most transplant centers. Wait time may be longer in some geographical areas. To increase your chances of getting a kidney, you may want to get on the transplant waitlist at several transplant centers.
Many people who need transplants of organs and tissues can’t get them because of a shortage of donations from deceased donors. The demand for kidneys exceeds the supply. More than 101,000 people in the United States need a kidney. But only 2% of people die in a way that makes their organs suitable for transplant. As a result, only a small fraction of kidneys from deceased donors are available for donation. Organ and tissue donations from living donors help give others a second chance at life.
What is a Living Donor?
A living donation is when a living person donates an organ or part of an organ to someone in need of a transplant. Most of the time the donor is a close family member, such as a parent, child, brother, or sister. But a donor can be a more distant family member, spouse, friend, or coworker. Nondirected donors are becoming more common. They donate anonymously and don’t know their recipients.
How Does Someone Become a Living Donor?
To donate a kidney, you must be in good mental and physical health with normal kidney function. If you want to donate to a family member, friend, or someone else, contact the transplant center where they are waiting for a transplant. If you want to donate anonymously, contact a transplant center in your area. To find one near you, go to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) website.
How Do I Know if I’m Healthy Enough to Donate?
The transplant center will do screening to see if you are qualified to be a living donor. Screening questions about your past medical history help identify conditions that might prevent donation. Some conditions are uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, or acute infections. Screening blood tests check for compatibility between you and the recipient.
After the screening process, you will complete a full evaluation. The evaluation includes medical tests, psychological evaluation, and a financial consultation. Go to Living Donor Evaluation to learn more.
The transplant team reviews the evaluation results. They determine if you are a suitable candidate for living donation.
What Can I Expect During the Procedure and Recovery?
Your medical team will give you detailed information about the procedure and recovery, but here is a quick overview:
Surgery to remove a kidney is called a nephrectomy. Surgeons do a laparoscopic procedure in most cases. A small camera (videoscope) and surgical instruments are inserted through one or more incisions in the abdomen. The kidney is detached and placed in a bag. Then the bag is pulled out of the body through an incision. The surgery usually takes about 3 to 4 hours.
Time spent in the hospital recovering from laparoscopic nephrectomy varies. Some living kidney donors spend 1 to 3 days, while others may stay longer. While you are healing from the surgery, you shouldn’t lift anything heavy for several weeks. Your medical team will advise you when it’s safe to return to work. See What to Expect After Donation to learn more.
Living Donor Resources
Start here. For anyone who is thinking about donating a kidney, the NKF Living Donation webpage is a good place to begin. Here you will find links to information on how to start the process and make a decision. Other links direct you to donor resources. These include NKF Peers Mentoring Program—Talk with a Living Donor and how to join the NKF’s Living Donor Community.
Take free courses. The National Kidney Foundation offers free courses for anyone who is interested in learning more about living donation. These online courses include videos on each topic followed by a few questions to see how much you have learned.
Learn about voucher programs. The National Kidney Registry’s voucher programs are a good option if the donor is not compatible with the recipient or wants to make sure a loved one will be able to get a kidney if they need it. Voucher donors donate a kidney and receive a voucher for a kidney in exchange. Those who become voucher donors can qualify for reimbursement of lost wages and travel expenses related to donation.
How Do I Find a Living Donor?
To find a living donor, educate your family and friends about kidney transplantation and donation. Even if you aren’t comfortable asking people to donate, make them aware of your need for a donor. If someone is interested, they can ask for more information. Interested donors can be tested for a potential match.
Living Donor Myths
There are many myths about what happens when you donate a kidney. Do you know the facts? Take this short quiz to find out.
Key Strategies to Finding a Living Donor
Finding a living donor can feel overwhelming. To help you get started, listen to this podcast
- Know the facts. Study this Overcoming Myths handout to help you identify what is true and what isn’t.
- Create your story. Click here to learn how to write an effective social media post or letter to share with others.
- Spread the word by sharing your story. Watch this short video to learn ways that Alan and Aisha shared their personal story. Listen to the Perfect Catch, The Journey Continues podcast to hear what happened when Bridgett Kolls held up a sign during a White Sox game at Wrigley Field in an effort to find a living donor.
- Build a network of advocates. You don’t have to do it all alone. Let your family and friends know that they can help by sharing your story. This will not only benefit you, but their advocacy will also educate and inform others about kidney disease. Go to Voices for Kidney Health to learn more about advocacy on a national level.
- Get support and learn from peers. NKF Peers is a mentoring program that connects you by phone to trained mentors. They are available to share their experiences related to treatment options, transplant, or living donation.
- Create an action plan. Make a list of action steps that will move you towards the goal of finding a donor. Steps may include writing your story; sharing it on social media; going to social gatherings and telling your story; signing up for a peer mentor; or contacting NKF Cares with questions. See a sample action plan at the end of this online handout.
More Resources for Finding a Living Donor
National Kidney Foundation Workshop Handout. This comprehensive handout covers myths vs facts about kidney donation; guidance for developing your story; conversation tips; how to create a Facebook page for sharing your story; Circles of Influence training to help you identify potential donors; and an Action Plan template.
How to Share Your Story and Find a Living Kidney Donor. This webpage offers advice to those who have recently learned that they need a transplant. It includes strategies to help you overcome reluctance and share your story.
The Big Ask. The Big Give. On this webpage you will find links to free, self-paced online programs, living donation handouts, and inspirational story videos.