Kidney donation and transplant

There are more than 106,000 people on the national transplant waiting list with 92,000 (87%) waiting for a kidney.

If you need a new kidney, consider a living donor kidney transplant. If you want a kidney transplant, you will need to be evaluated by a transplant center first.

If you have two healthy kidneys, you may be able to donate one of your kidneys to enhance or 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.

How can I be a living kidney donor?

If you are interested in living kidney donation:

  • Contact the transplant center where a transplant candidate is registered.
  • You will need to have an evaluation at the transplant center to make sure that you are a good match for the person you want to donate to 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 intended recipient, but still want to donate your kidney so that the recipient you know can receive a kidney that is a match, paired kidney exchange may be an option for you.

Another way to donate a kidney while you are alive is to give a kidney to someone you do not necessarily know. This is called living non-directed donation. If you are interested in donating a kidney to someone you do not know, the transplant center might ask you to donate a kidney when you are a match for someone who is waiting for a kidney in your area, or as part of kidney paired donation. You will never be forced to donate.

Another way to donate a kidney while you are alive is to give a kidney to someone you do not necessarily know. This is called living non-directed donation. If you are interested in donating a kidney to someone you do not know, the transplant center might ask you to donate a kidney when you are a match for someone who is waiting for a kidney in your area, or as part of kidney paired donation. You will never be forced to donate.

What are the benefits of a living kidney donation?

There is no doubt that being a living donor is a huge benefit to the recipient (the person who gets your kidney). Recipients of a living donor kidney usually live longer, healthier lives compared to those who receive a deceased donor kidney (a kidney from someone who has just died). It is important to recognize there can be benefits to the donor, as well. Some of these are:

  • Saving the life of another person
  • Giving a renewed and improved quality of life to another person
  • Greater understanding of your own health or health conditions

What is a kidney donation surgery?

If you want to be a living donor, you will need to have a medical exam with blood tests to be sure you are healthy enough to donate a kidney. Some of the tests needed may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Pap smear/ gynecological exam
  • Colonoscopy (if over age 50)
  • Screening tests for cancer
  • Antibody test
  • X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) which looks at your heart
  • Other image testing like a CT scan
  • You are also required to meet with a psychologist and an Independent Living Donor Advocate to be sure you are mentally and emotionally ready to donate one of your kidneys.

If you are found to be healthy, and your antibodies and blood type are well-matched to the person getting your kidney, you may be approved to schedule your transplant surgery.

What are the financial implications of kidney donation?

Being a living kidney donor can be very rewarding. You may get to help a loved one regain their health, give a friend the chance to get off dialysis or even save a stranger's life. If you are a person with kidney disease and trying to decide if a transplant is right for you, you might be wondering how it could affect your life. Learn about the financial implications of kidney donation.

What are the risks of a living kidney donation?

As a kidney donor, your risk of having kidney failure later in your life is not any higher than it is for someone in the general population of a similar age, sex or race.

On average, donors have 25-35% permanent loss of kidney function after surgery.

It is important to recognize that there are risks with any type of surgery, which the transplant team will explain to you in detail. Some of these include:

  • Pain
  • Feeling tired
  • Hernia
  • Blood clots
  • Pneumonia
  • Nerve injury
  • Bowel obstruction

Some people who donate an organ may experience anxiety, depression or fear after the surgery. Financial stress can also come as a result of donation, as you may need to take time off from work. Talk to the transplant team during the evaluation process to find ways to manage these stresses.

Getting a kidney transplant

What are the types of living kidney donations?

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.

Who is eligible for a transplant?

Before you know if you qualify for a kidney transplant, you must have a full health evaluation by a transplant team at a transplant center. The evaluation will help the transplant team decide if you are ready for the kidney transplant. If the transplant team decides you are ready, the next step will be for your transplant team to help you find a kidney match.

On the day of the evaluation, you and your family will meet the members of the transplant team. The evaluation may take only one day, or it could take several days.

You will need to have several health tests and exams at the transplant center before the transplant team can decide whether the surgery will be safe for you.

Life after transplant: Health outcomes, rejection prevention and healthy tips

Getting a kidney transplant can feel like having another chance at life. There are many great things that come after a transplant, like having better health and more freedom to do the things you enjoy. However, it is important to remember a transplant is a treatment for kidney disease, not a cure, and you will need to take special care of yourself, and your transplanted kidney.

Here is what you should know about life after a transplant:

Kidney transplant in children

Each year, an estimated 1 out of every 65,000 children in the United States has kidney failure. Children with kidney failure have a different experience with this disease than adults.

Kidney failure can have a negative impact on a child's growth, bone strength, and nerves. The kidneys are our body's filters, so when the kidneys do not work in the right way, too much waste can build up that is supposed to be filtered out. This can affect a child's brain development and function, causing learning disabilities.

Kidney transplant is considered the best treatment option for adults, as well as children, who have kidney failure. Having a kidney transplant means your child would not have to do dialysis, which takes up lots of time and could disrupt your child's social and school life.

Learn more about kidney transplants in children

Add your loved one's name to our virtual Tribute Wall to honor or remember their fight

Add your tribute now
woman holding framed picture