Most people believe they can only donate organs after they die. This is not true. Bone marrow, lobe of the lung, whole kidneys, and fractions of the liver can be obtained from living donors. An entire kidney can be donated from a living donor because most people have two, and healthy individuals only need one kidney for normal function.
Does Blood Type Have to be Compatible?
While it’s helpful to know your blood type, it’s not essential. In living donation, incompatible blood type donors can still donate a kidney to help another by donating their kidney Indirectly through a remarkable exchange program called Paired Donation.
In fact, kidneys donated from living donors can offer a higher quality result, because living organs are not exposed to the trauma that caused the death in deceased donation. Likewise, living donor kidneys are only without blood supply for a brief time before transplantation, unlike deceased organ counterparts. Living donation can also enhance quality assurance, through vigorous pre-surgical donor testing and recipient cross matching.
How Does the Paired Donation Program Work?
Paired donation is a sophisticated kidney exchange program that matches up incompatible donors with more suitable recipients. This brilliant program allows incompatible blood type donors to donate a kidney to an unknown recipient, so their friend, family member or loved one can obtain a more suitable match in exchange for their donation.
Remarkably, paired programs have been known to engage more than a dozen donor/recipients at one time. This practice is referred to as a domino chain in transplantation. After completing a linked series of transplants, the program only pauses temporarily to line up the next “matched set” for a never-ending string of life renewal.
Donors who are willing to enter into a kidney exchange through paired donation are powerful resources because they expose their recipients to hundreds of potential donors. The more donors the person in need can be exposed to, the greater the opportunity for an excellent match.
The Donor Process
I Think I’d Like To Donate One of My Kidneys. Who Should I Call?
If you know who you’d like to donate one of your kidneys to, then ask that potential recipient for their transplant center’s contact information, so you can call in for the initial telephone screening. (Only potential donors can initiate this type of call to ensure the center that the caller is acting on their own volition). The main purpose of this initial call is to document your interest, and begin the pre-screening process for donor candidacy. While you’ll be asked several health questions, this is also a perfect time to ask questions of your own.
If you do not have a person in mind, you can call a transplant center in your area and tell them you’d like to be an altruistic kidney donor. You may also CONTACT US to see if we might happen to know someone in need, who you could consider helping.
What Type of Testing Does The Donor Have To Go Through?
After potential donors are approved to proceed with further testing, they will be scheduled for a series of tests like laboratory and X-ray tests, as well as an EKG. These tests screen for kidney function, liver function, hepatitis, heart disease, lung disease, and past exposure to viral illness. Urine testing is also done to make sure that the donor’s kidneys function normally. A CT angiogram (a computerized tomography, or CTA) scan might also be required.
Additionally, the potential donor’s routine (annual) health maintenance tests (e.g., pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.), and necessary medical clearances for pre-existing conditions need to be submitted to the living donor team for review.
Donors are then asked to meet with both a clinical social worker for a psychosocial evaluation and a surgeon for medical consultation. Once all results from the entire evaluation process are available, they are reviewed by a multidisciplinary committee that decides whether the donor is able to safely proceed with the donation. Due to strict protocols and guidelines, potential donors are often turned down, so it’s wise to have back-up donors lined up to minimize lost time and distractions from disappointment.
Although it seems that these tests would take several weeks, or even months to complete, proactive donors have been known to consecutively schedule their appointments and complete their tests in about 4 days.
How Long is the Donor Hospitalized?
Today, most donor surgeries are done laparoscopically, requiring a few small incisions. The donor is typically admitted to the hospital the same day of surgery, and released in about 2 days. All medical costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance, so the donor has no out-of-pocket expenses. Most donors are allowed to return to work in two to three weeks, depending on how strenuous their jobs are.
How Long is the Donor Off Work?
Most people are able to return to work after two to three weeks, depending on their recovery from surgery and the type of job they have. Donors who have a “desk job” or who do most of their work by phone or computer may be able to return to work much sooner than patients with a more physically demanding job.
What’s the Donor’s Benefit/Risk Ratio?
Any time someone undergoes major surgery there are risks. The most common ones are infections at the incision site and pain immediately following surgery. However, because the procedure is performed laparoscopically, incisions are very small, which significantly reduces discomfort and expedites healing. The statistical risk of dying from this type of surgery is said to be less than one percent.
Generally, living donors feel honored to be of service. And the vast majority (96%) say they would do it again if they could. Donors also report a higher quality of life, perhaps linked to a feelings of self-worth and recognition for their achievement and contribution, as a result of their gift that saved someone’s life.
Since most healthy people don’t realize they can donate one of their kidneys (and still live a normal, healthy life), these conversations could ultimately save a life! At the very least, the dialogue you initiate will increase awareness. And best case, your heartfelt story might resonate deeply with a Good Samaritan who feels a calling for the ultimate gift of human kindness. Either way, you create a win-win by sharing your story often, and with as many people as possible.
Help Transplant Recipients Avoid The Long Life-Threatening Wait!
More than 100,000 people are waiting in urgent need.
12 people die each day while waiting.
Could You Be Their Life-Saving Hero?
Are You That Someone?