A living donor kidney transplant is a surgery to give you a healthy kidney from someone who is still alive. This is possible because each person only needs one healthy kidney to live. A person with two healthy kidneys can donate one kidney to a person with kidney failure. A living donor can be a family member, friend or even a stranger!

Kidneys from living donors can sometimes last almost twice as long as kidneys from deceased donors. On average living kidney donor transplants last 15-20 years. How long your kidney will last depends on many factors, but the most important is how well you take care of it. To help your new kidney last as long as possible, you must take your medicine every day, as many times a day as your doctor tells you, and at the times your doctor tells you. Skipping your medicine can cause your new kidney to stop working.

Before you can have a living donor kidney transplant, you will need to have an evaluation at your transplant center. The evaluation will help the transplant team figure out if transplant is a good option for you.

You will also have tests that will help the doctors gather information about your kidneys, so that they can make sure your donor’s kidney is a good match for yours.

Click here to learn more about the transplant evaluation process and finding a match.

Finding a living donor

There are two types of living donation:

  • Directed donation – the living donor chooses the specific person they want to give their kidney to. This type of donation usually happens when the donor and patient are family members or friends.
  • Non-directed donation – the living donor does not name a specific person who should receive their kidney.  The kidney can be given to anyone in need of a kidney who is a match. A non-directed donation is less common than a directed donation.

To receive a living donor kidney transplant, you will need to find someone who is willing and able to give you his or her kidney. A friend or family member may offer to give you one of his or her kidneys, or you might have to take the first step and ask a friend or a family member if he or she would be willing to be a kidney donor. It can be difficult to know how to start a conversation about organ donation. The United Network for Organ Sharing has some useful tips on how to have these conversations.

Some people do not have a friend or family member who is willing, or able to donate a kidney. Your transplant team may be able to help you find a donor who you do not know, or you may be able to participate in a paired kidney exchange.

Wait time for a living kidney donor

If you have a donor who is willing and able to give you a kidney, you can have your transplant as soon as both you and your donor are ready. Keep in mind that being ready for transplant sometimes depends on things that are out of your control, such as other health problems you or your donor may have. Talk to your transplant team to find out if there is anything you need to do to get ready for transplant.

If you do not have a donor, you may have to wait years for a transplant. The average waiting time for a deceased donor transplant is 3 to 5 years. You may look for a living donor while you wait for a deceased donor kidney and have your transplant using whichever kidney is available first.

Click here for more information on the living kidney donation process.