Types of living donor kidney transplants

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Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
March 28, 2022

If you need a new kidney, consider a living donor kidney transplant. A kidney transplant from a living donor will last longer than a transplant from a donor who has died (a deceased donor). And your transplant can happen as soon as you and your living donor are ready!

A living donor kidney transplant is a surgery to give you a healthy kidney from someone who is still alive. On average, living kidney donor transplants last 15 to 20 years. Deceased donor transplants last 10 to 15 years on average. Each year, about 4 out of every 10 donations (40%) are from living donors. 

What are the types of living donor transplants?

Directed & nondirected donation

Directed donation is when a living donor gives a kidney to a person they have chosen, such as a family member or friend. This is the most common type of living donor transplant.

Nondirected donation is when a living donor gives a kidney to a stranger. This is sometimes called altruistic or good Samaritan donation and is the least common type of donation.

Kidney paired donation (KPD) and donation chains

Kidney paired donation (KPD) and donation chains can happen when a donor and recipient pair are not a good match, so they swap with other pairs to get better matches. These swaps make transplants possible for more people and have become more common in recent years:

  • With kidney paired donation (also called paired exchange), two donor and recipient pairs swap donors to get better kidney matches.
  • With donation chains, many pairs or nondirected donors swap donors to get better kidney matches.

Incompatible kidney transplant

Some transplant centers now offer incompatible kidney transplants when a donor and recipient are not a good match. Transplant doctors use special methods to make the recipient's body less sensitive to the donor's incompatible kidney. Talk to your doctor about if this could be an option for you.

Who can be a living donor?

A living donor can be a family member, friend, someone in your community or even a stranger!  Usually, they must be at least 18 years old and in good overall physical and mental health.

What are the financial costs of being a living donor?

The major costs of being a living donor are covered by the kidney recipient's insurance. This includes costs for:

  • Evaluation at the transplant center to see if you are healthy enough to donate a kidney
  • Transplant surgery

The National Living Donor Assistance Center gives financial help to living donors for these costs related to evaluation, surgery and follow-up visits: 

  • Nonmedical expenses such as travel, hotels and meals
  • Wages lost from missing work
  • Child care and elder care expenses

How does a living donor transplant work?

A living donor transplant is a process that includes you, your family, friends and a transplant team.

Contact a transplant center 

If you are interested in getting a living donor transplant, contact a transplant center in your area to schedule an evaluation. The evaluation will include a physical exam and tests to help the transplant team: 

  • See if a transplant is a good option for you
  • Find out your kidney matching type to see which donors may be a good match for you

Learn more about the transplant evaluation process and finding a match.

Look for a donor 

To find a donor who is willing and able to donate a kidney to you: 

  • Tell your family, friends and others in your community that you need a kidney. 
  • If someone does not offer to donate, take the first step and ask a family member, friend or others such as people at your church or synagogue.  
  • If you cannot find a donor you know, ask your transplant team if they can help you find a donor who you do not know, or if you can take part in a paired kidney exchange.

It can be hard to talk about organ donation. The United Network for Organ Sharing has some useful tips on how to have these conversations.

If you find a living donor, you can have your transplant as soon as you and your donor are ready. 

  • Being ready for a transplant sometimes depends on things that are out of your control, such as other health problems that you or your donor may have. 
  • Ask your transplant team if there are things you can do to get ready for a transplant.

If you do not find a living donor, you may have to wait longer for a transplant. The average wait time for a transplant from a deceased donor is three to five years. Keep looking for a living donor while you wait for a deceased donor kidney and use whichever type of kidney is available first.

Learn more about the living kidney donation process.