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A successful kidney transplant requires the donation of a healthy kidney from a donor with the same tissue type and a compatible blood type as the recipient. A kidney donor match could be a relative, spouse, friend, co-worker—or someone you don’t know who’s matched to you through a donor program.
What are the 2 types of kidney donation?There are 2 types of kidney donation for people in need of a transplant.
- Living donation is when a healthy kidney is surgically removed from a donor who’s still alive, leaving 1 healthy kidney intact. A person only needs 1 functioning kidney to live a healthy life. Kidney donation is the most common type of living organ donation.
- Deceased donation is when a healthy kidney comes from an organ donor who is recently deceased. There are currently 93,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor.
How to find a kidney donorHere are some steps to take once your doctor has determined that you're a good candidate for a kidney transplant and you need a kidney donor:
- Place your name on the donor waiting list for a kidney transplant. Even if you might find a living donor, it's important to register as a backup. With today's advanced donor-matching technology, it is possible to find a good match with a living or deceased donor. For more information on how to get started, talk to your social worker.
- Consider who you might ask for a kidney donation. For a kidney transplant to be successful, the new kidney must be from a donor who has a compatible tissue and blood type. A blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, may be the closest match.
Asking for a kidney donation
When you're ready to ask the big question, here are some tips for having the conversation.
- Share your story. You may want to privately discuss your situation with close friends and relatives or give a big shout-out via social media to spread the word. If you do go “social,” play it safe and be selective about your audience.
- Explain the benefits. Let them know that a successful kidney transplant could give you a healthier and possibly longer life.
- Prepare to answer questions. When people ask you what it means to donate a kidney, know the facts and help them learn more.
- Be ready for any answer. Some people who want to donate a kidney may not be able to because of their health. Others may say “no” for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. Try not to take it personally.
- Stay positive. Speak with a social worker or another counselor if you have any fears or concerns.
LIVING WITH 1 KIDNEY
A single healthy kidney can do 70%-80% of the job of 2 kidneys. With a kidney donation, the goal is for the kidney donor and the transplant recipient to each end up with 1 working kidney.
How to donate a kidneyIf you volunteer to be a living donor, you’ll have tests to find out if you’re a good match to be a kidney donor—and if you’re both physically and psychologically ready for surgery. If you’re a match and the transplant is approved, you’ll need to make plans for surgery and recovery time.
The tests and surgery for a kidney donation are usually covered by the insurance of the person receiving the kidney, though travel expenses and lost income from any missed work may not be covered. Help with the overall cost of donation may be available through the National Living Donor Assistance Program.
What do I need to know before donating a kidney?
While donating an organ is no small thing, the majority of risks following nephrectomy (kidney removal) are minor, and many living donors are able to have less invasive, laparoscopic surgery.
Here are some things to know before donating a kidney:
Here are some things to know before donating a kidney:
- If you decide to donate, the transplant hospital will assign you an advocate who will discuss what typically happens before, during and after surgery and answer all your questions.
- You’ll want to be sure you have adequate medical insurance in case pre-donation screening finds a condition requiring treatment or you have a medical problem after the kidney removal.
- After donating a kidney, it may be more difficult to get life insurance or disability insurance, and your rates may go up.
- Women who donate a kidney and later become pregnant may have more complications in pregnancy.
- When living with 1 kidney, you’ll have annual checkups to make sure it’s working well. You’ll also need blood pressure checks every year since it tends to go up slightly after kidney donation.
- It’s common to have strong emotions after donating a kidney. You might feel depressed, even if everything goes well. Getting support after organ donation is important. Contact your transplant center about resources or find a mental health professional that can help.
- It doesn’t happen often, but if you donate a kidney and your remaining kidney fails, you’ll be given high priority on the transplant waiting list for a kidney donation.
IF A POTENTIAL DONOR ISN'T A MATCH
If someone wants to donate a kidney to you but isn't a match for blood typing or tissue typing, there’s an option called paired exchange. Paired exchange is when 2 living donors each give a kidney to each other’s recipients.
LEARN MORE ABOUT KIDNEY DONATION
Visit the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) for more details on kidney donation. The NKF also offers a program that lets you speak directly with a person who has donated—or received—a kidney, so you can hear from someone with firsthand experience.