More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Many more people are waiting for a kidney than for all other organs combined. Unfortunately, the number of people waiting for kidneys is much larger than the number of available kidneys from living and deceased donors. You can save a life by being a kidney donor.

What is a kidney transplant?

Almost everyone is born with two kidneys, but each person only needs one healthy kidney to live. When both kidneys stop working, it is called kidney failure (end-stage renal disease, or ESRD). People with kidney failure must have dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. A kidney transplant is a surgery to give a person a healthy kidney from someone else’s body. The donated kidney can come from someone who has just died or someone who is still alive. When the kidney comes from someone who has just died, it is called a deceased donor transplant. When the kidney comes from someone who is alive, it is called a living donor transplant. After a living donor transplant is done, the recipient (the person receiving the kidney) and the donor (the person donating the kidney) each has one healthy kidney.

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How can I donate a kidney?

There are two types of kidney donation. You may be able to donate a kidney while you are still alive. You may also choose to be an organ donor after you pass away. If you know you want to be an organ donor after you pass away, the best way to make sure your wishes are honored is to register as an organ donor. This is something you can do online. You can also make sure your driver’s license shows that you would like to be an organ donor and you should tell your family members that you would like to be an organ donor when you pass away.

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How can I donate a kidney while I am alive?

If you have two healthy kidneys, you may be able to donate one of your kidneys to save someone else’s life. Both you and the recipient of your kidney (the person who got your kidney) can live with just one healthy kidney.

If you are interested in giving a kidney to someone you know, the first step is to contact the transplant center where that person is registered. You will need to have an evaluation at the transplant center to make sure that you are a good match for the recipient and that you are healthy enough to donate. If you are a match, healthy, and willing to donate, you and the recipient can schedule the transplant at a time that works for both of you. If you are not a match for the person you know, but are still willing to donate your kidney so that the recipient you know can receive a kidney that is a match, paired donation may be an option for you. Learn more about paired donation.

Another way to donate a kidney while you are still alive is to register as a living kidney donor who will give a kidney to someone you do not necessarily know. This is called living non-directed donation. If you register as a living non-directed donor, you might be asked to donate a kidney when you are a match for someone who is waiting for a kidney in your area. You will never be forced to donate; if you are called to donate, you may decide at that point if you are ready and willing. If you decide you want to register as a living non-directed donor, the first step is to contact transplant centers to talk about this option.

You can find a list of U.S. hospitals that perform kidney transplants here.

Learn more about living organ donation here.

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How can I donate my kidneys after I die?

We usually do not expect to die until we reach old age. But sometimes the unexpected happens--a car accident, a heart attack, a stroke. You can decide now that you want to save others’ lives if, after doctors have tried everything to save you, your life cannot be saved. Your organs and tissues will only be donated if there is no chance of saving your life.

By registering as an organ and/or tissue donor, you are giving permission for your organs and/or tissues (such as skin and bones) to be given to people who need them. The organs from one person can save up to eight people, and the tissue from one person can help more than 50 people! You may give permission for some organs or tissues to be used and not others. You may also say that you only want your organs or tissues to be used for one purpose and not others. For example, you may decide that you only want to donate your kidneys and no other organs, and you only want them to be used for organ transplants, not for any other purposes.

If you are considering donating your organs in the event of your death, talk about your wishes with your loved ones. You may also talk about your questions and concerns with your doctor. If you decide you do want to be an organ donor, the best way to make sure that your wishes are honored is to register in your state.

Click here to read answers to frequently asked questions about organ donation.

Click here to register in your state.

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Minority kidney donation

For a kidney transplant to be successful, the donor kidney must be a good match for the recipient’s body. A person of one race or ethnicity can get a matching kidney from a person of a different race or ethnicity, but matching kidneys are most often found in donors who are of the same race or ethnicity as the recipient. Because there are more non-Hispanic white people in the U.S. than people of any other race/ethnicity, most of the registered organ donors are also non-Hispanic white. But kidney failure happens more often among minorities than it does among non-Hispanic white people. There are not enough minority organ donors to meet the needs of all of the African-American, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino people who are waiting for kidney transplants.

View more information about minorities and organ donation on organdonor.gov. 

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