More than 100,000 people are on a waiting list for kidney donations in the United States, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. On average, a new name is added to the list every 14 minutes. Tragically, an average of 13 people die each day because a kidney donor was not available for them. There is an effort to meet this need. In 2018, 16,312 kidney transplants were performed in the United States according to UNOS, United Network for Organ Sharing. Deceased donor kidneys were used for 9,867 transplants. Kidneys from living donors were used in 6,445 transplants.

Donating a kidney is described as “a gift of life” by both the donors and recipients. There are many moving stories about the experience of being a living kidney donor. Eva Hale was able to save the life of her young daughter, Angelica, by donating a kidney to her. Jason Nothdurft learned that a friend needed a kidney and stepped up to donate one of his kidneys to help. He called the experience of visiting the recipient after the surgery “awe-inspiring” because he could see the man was “was a new person” filled with energy and hope. To listen to these and other stories of being living donors, visit https://www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors.

Living donor requirements

Anyone in good physical and mental health can potentially be a living kidney donor. In most cases, the donor must be 18 years or older. Donors must undergo testing to be sure they are healthy. The major factor in matching a donor and recipient is blood type although in some cases, a donor’s size or age can be a factor.

Types of living donor transplants

There are three types of living donor transplants. The most common is a directed donation where the donor chooses a family member or friend to receive the kidney. In some cases, where the donor and a recipient are not a match, a paired donation can be arranged. In a paired donation, a recipient with an incompatible donor is linked to another donor-recipient pair in the same situation. If the two donors match to the two recipients, the transplant can occur. The third type of donation is a non-directed donation where a person agrees to donate a kidney without naming the recipient.

The donation process

The kidney transplant operation takes approximately three hours. The donated kidney is placed into the lower pelvic area of the recipient. The non-functioning kidneys are rarely removed since they usually do not cause any harm if left in place. As with any major surgery, there are some risks involved but the complication rate for donors following surgery is low. There is a time of recovery for the donor but no special medications are needed. The donor’s remaining kidney enlarges to take over the work of two kidneys. The life expectancy, general health and kidney function of a donor is the same as the general population. Kidney recipients usually experience a boost of energy, often within a day of the transplant. There are potential complications for the recipient who has to take a variety of medications, but the success rates are encouraging. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 93% of all kidneys transplanted are still functioning after a year and 83% are still functioning after three years.

The decision to become an organ donor

Whether you have a recipient in mind or just want to help someone in need, becoming a living kidney donor is an amazing act of kindness. For more information on how to be a living kidney donor, visit the National Kidney Foundation website https://www.nkfi.org/be-a-donor.

There are 113,000 people waiting for organ and tissue transplants in the United States and the numbers continue to grow. Gift of Hope was founded to help people on these waiting lists. As one of the federally funded 58 Organ Procurement Organizations in the United States, Gift of Hope coordinates organ and tissue donation and provides public education on donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. As one of the busiest OPO’s in the country serving nearly 12 million people, Gift of Hope works with 180 hospitals and nine transplant centers to provide more than 30 different transplant programs. Anyone can become a part of this effort to change and save lives by becoming a registered organ donor.

To learn more about the impact of becoming a donor and the simple process required, visit https://www.giftofhope.org/contact.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Ben Schonewille