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!
How does a living donor kidney transplant work?
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 treatment 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. Any person who wants to give you a kidney will also have these tests to find out if his or her kidney is a good match for you. A family member might be a match or you might have to look for a donor outside of your family.
If you find a living donor, you and your donor will both have surgery on the same day, in the same hospital. The donor will have surgery to take one of his or her kidneys out. You will have surgery to have the donor’s kidney put into your body.
How can I find a living donor?
To have 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 might 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 discussions.
Some people do not have a friend or family member who is willing and able to donate a kidney. Your transplant team may be able to help you find a donor that you do not know, or you may be able to participate in a paired kidney exchange.
What is paired donation?
Paired kidney donation (or paired exchange) is an option when you have a relative or friend who is willing and able to be a kidney donor, but he or she is not a match for you. In a paired exchange, your relative or friend gives a kidney to someone who needs it, and that recipients’ relative or friend gives his or her kidney to you. Look at the picture below to understand how this works.
Talk to your transplant team if you are interested in participating in a paired exchange.
How long will I wait for a living donor kidney transplant?
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 in either you or your donor. 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. A kidney from a deceased donor may become available before you find a living donor. 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.
How long will my new kidney last?
If you take good care of your new kidney, it can last for many years! Transplanted kidneys from living donors may last almost twice as long as kidneys from deceased donors. If your new kidney stops working, you will need to go back on dialysis. You may also get back on the waiting list for a kidney transplant or find another living donor.