The Basics of Living Organ Donation
In 2018 there were 29,680 deceased donor transplants and only 6,849 living donor transplants. Data from OPTN as of June 3, 2019. Our goal is to bring awareness to the public about living donation so we can help address the shortage of available organs. Living organ donation and transplantation was developed as a direct result of the critical shortage of deceased donors. Almost all Americans support organ donation, but only about half are registered to be organ donors.
The decision to become a living donor requires time and careful consideration. Our hope is that by providing you with the basics of living organ donation we can help educate and provide you with additional resources if you are interested in becoming a living organ donor.
What is living organ donation?
Living donation is an opportunity to save a life while you are still living. Living donation offers another choice for transplant candidates, and it has the potential to save two lives: the recipient and the next one on the deceased organ waiting list, as the life of the next person on the wait-list isn't guaranteed, even if their wait is reduced. Even better, kidney and liver patients who are able to receive a living donor transplant can receive the best quality organ much sooner, often in less than a year.
The need for living organ donation.
Nearly 115,000 people in America are waiting for an organ. Unfortunately, many may never get the call saying that an organ – and a second chance at life – has been found. 82% of patients waiting are in need of a kidney and 13% are in need of a liver. A living donor is an option for these and other patients who otherwise may face a lengthy wait for an organ from a deceased donor. (Source: OPTN.)
What are the most common living donations?
Many lives are saved through living donation; in fact over 6,000 transplants were possible in 2017 because of living donors. There are three different types of living donation, directed, non-directed, and paired exchange living donation. It is important to know the differences between the types of donation in order to determine what will be best for you, if you consider becoming a living donor. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) explains the below three types of living donation.
- Directed donation: in a directed donation, the donor names the specific person to receive the transplant. This is the most common type of living donation. The donor may be:
- a biological relative, such as a parent, brother, sister or adult child,
- a biologically unrelated person who has a personal or social connection with the transplant candidate, such as a spouse or significant other, a friend or a coworker, or
- a biologically unrelated person who has heard about the transplant candidate’s need.
- Non-Directed donation:
- In non-directed donation, the donor does not name the specific person to get the transplant. The match is arranged based on medical compatibility with a patient in need. Some non-directed donors choose never to meet their recipient. And some recipients choose not to meet their donor. And in other cases, the donor and recipient may meet at some time, if they both agree, and if the transplant center policy permits it.
- Paired donations (Kidney Only):
- Sometimes a transplant candidate has someone who wants to donate a kidney to them, but tests reveal that the kidney would not be a good medical match. Paired donation, also called paired kidney exchange, gives that transplant candidate another option. In paired donation, two or more pairs of living kidney donors and the individuals they want to donate to are swapped to form a compatible medical match.
Can anyone be a living donor?
No. But most healthy adults can become organ donors. In general, living donors should be:
- Healthy and physically fit.
- Age range varies by organ but in general it is between the ages of 18 and 60.
- Free of diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease or heart disease. They also should not have had these conditions in the past.
There are also many other requirements beyond physical considerations that are taken into account.
What are the risks?
Most people experience few or no problems with living organ donation. Organ donation does require major surgery, however, and there are risks with any surgical procedure. You might experience some pain during recovery. Some people experience other post-surgical complications, like nerve damage. Since every transplant situation is different it is best to talk with your transplant center experts to understand all your potential risks.
Becoming a living donor is a big decision and in this post we only provided a high level overview of the basics of living donation. For this reason, interested donors must spend time talking with experts at a transplant center to be fully educated. Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about living organ donation.
- Three Can’t Miss Posts if you’re considering living organ donation
- What to expect during a living donor evaluation
- Living kidney donation surgery play-by-play
If you are interested in becoming a living organ donor view our living donor toolkit to get started as a living organ donor.
- Learn more about our Connect Discussion Group
- Explore Mayo’s Transplant Center
- Request an appointment.