The “Becoming a Living Donor” section discusses who is eligible to become a living donor, what to consider before making a decision, the process of becoming a living donor, and what to expect during recovery.
Living donation involves significant and invasive medical procedures. Please make sure you are ready to donate by thoroughly reviewing the following information, as well as information provided by your doctor and/or transplant team.
Who can become a living donor?
Living donors are usually between 18 and 60 years of age and are often close relatives of the intended recipient. However, acceptable ages may vary by transplant center and the health of the donor candidate.
The prospective donor must have a compatible blood type, and in the case of kidney donation, tissue type, as determined by lab tests of the donor and recipient.
The donor candidate is carefully evaluated by lab tests, a physical examination, and a psychosocial examination to ensure that the candidate is healthy enough to donate and that he or she is making an informed decision. The decision about whether to accept the donor is then made by the health care team at the transplant center.
Making an Informed Decision
What do I need to think about before donating?
You should fully consider how donation may impact your physical and emotional health, as well as family life, financial situation, and current and future health and life insurance status.
What to consider before donating:
Living donation involves significant invasive medical procedures. Please make sure you are ready and willing to donate.
It is important to ask the transplant center any questions you have. Before deciding whether to donate, you should understand all aspects of the donation process, including any risks and benefits.
Be completely honest with the transplant team about your feelings, concerns, and fears about being a donor. Your consent to become a donor is completely voluntary, and you should never feel pressured.
You have the right to delay or stop the donation process at any time. The reasons for your decision will be kept confidential by the transplant team.
First, we recommend speaking to your primary physician, family, friends, and the transplant candidate about your desire to become a living donor. However, the decision to donate is a deeply personal and private one. It should be made in alignment to your own personal values and moral code.
- It is important for you to fully understand the risks involved in living donation. Gather as much information as possible from your transplant center and other sources.
- Your donation should be completely voluntary and free from pressure and guilt.
- It is illegal to be paid for donation under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (NOTA). Living donors may be able to receive reimbursement for certain expenses related to donation.
The general steps for becoming a living organ donor are detailed below:
Contact the transplant center where the intended transplant candidate is being followed. The transplant candidate should be able to provide you with the center’s contact information, or look it up here. When you reach out to the transplant center, tell them the name of the recipient.
Non-Directed or Altruistic Donors
If you would like to be a non-directed/altruistic living donor, meaning you wish to donate to an anonymous candidate on the transplant waiting list, contact your nearest transplant centers directly to find out if they have this kind of donation program.
For a complete list of transplant centers, visit the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) member directory. You can also call the UNOS patient services line at 1-888-894-6361 for help.
2. Preliminary Evaluation
When you contact the transplant center staff, they will ask questions about your medical history to find out if you have any conditions that would preclude you from donating. Some transplant centers will you send you a health questionnaire for you to fill out before your blood test.
If you pre-qualify, you will complete a blood test to determine whether you are compatible with the intended transplant candidate. (Or, for altruistic living donors, to test your blood type and to test for transmissible disease.)
The transplant team will answer your medical questions and inform you of possible risks and benefits of living donation.
It is important for you to get as much information as possible during this time.
3. Evaluation Process
If you are still eligible and interested in becoming a donor after the primary contact, the transplant team will begin the full evaluation process.
Staff at your transplant center will ask about your financial situation and discuss who can provide physical help and emotional support through the transplant process. You will be asked to fully describe your reasons for considering donation and asked how donating may affect your lifestyle.
You will complete a physical examination and extensive medical tests to minimize any risk to your health and safety.
The results of your evaluation will be kept confidential.
The following is a general description of the testing process. The process may vary from center to center:
- A financial consultation will be used to determine your financial situation and insurance coverage for the testing process and donation. Generally, if the donation is to a family member or friend, the recipient’s insurance will pay for testing and surgery expenses, but this highly depends on the recipient’s insurance. Be sure to ask the financial counselor and/or social worker at the transplant center for help navigating through these issues.
- Medical history review: The transplant staff will ask you to provide thorough information about any previous illnesses, surgeries, and treatments and about your family’s medical history.
- Physical examination: You will be given a physical examination to help determine that you are healthy enough to donate. If any abnormalities are found during your exam, they will be investigated.
- A psychosocial/psychological evaluation will be used to:
- Provide a safe and private environment where emotional support and/or information can be given.
- Assess the donor’s motivation(s). If the potential donor does not want to donate, the transplant team can help the donor decline in a way that preserves the family relationships.
- Evaluate if there is any family or external pressure(s) or financial incentive to donate.
- Give the donor an opportunity to process or express himself/herself more fully than he/she might to the physician or with the recipient or family present.
- Help the staff work with the donor and family prior to and after surgery.
Please note: The time it takes to complete the evaluation process can vary. If you do not live near the transplant candidate, you may be able to complete some tests at a hospital or doctor’s office near your home.
4. Making a Decision
Ask your transplant team about any questions you have. You should understand all aspects of the donation process as well as risks and benefits.
It is important to be completely honest with the transplant team about your feelings, concerns, and fears. Your consent to donate is completely voluntary, and you should never feel pressured. You have the right to delay or end the donation process at any time. The reasons for your decision will be kept confidential by the transplant staff.
Discuss your feelings and decision with your family, friends, counselor, or clergy. Find out more about the experience of other living donors by reading books or web logs before making a final decision, and if possible, talk with other living donors about their experience.
Carefully consider how your donation may affect your physical and emotional health, family life, financial situation, and current and future health and life insurance status. Finally, carefully consider the alternative: not donating.
Recovering from Surgery
Your transplant team is a good source for medical information regarding living donor surgery and the recovery process. Please talk with these professionals about what to expect.
Kidney donors typically stay in the hospital between three and seven days after surgery. Laparoscopic surgery typically decreases the amount of time the donor must remain hospitalized. Most kidney donors can resume normal activities after 4-6 weeks depending on the physical demands of daily living and work tasks. Kidney donors may not be able to drive for up to two weeks. Lifting restrictions will likely be in place for at least six weeks.
Liver donors typically stay in the hospital up to a week, longer in some cases. The liver typically regenerates in two months. Most liver donors return to work and normal daily activities in two months, though some will need more time.
Be sure to discuss follow-up procedures with your transplant team. Ask for detailed information about follow-up visits, lab tests, and other requirements. Attend all follow-up appointments to make sure you are healthy and recovering.