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Tue, Jul 28 4:15pm

Donation Chains Save Lives

By Kristin Eggebraaten, Relations Coordinator, @keggebraaten

Today more than 112,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant and over 83% of those are waiting for a kidney. Increasing the number of possible living donors is one of the best ways to reduce this waiting list for kidney transplant. Paired donation kidney transplant is a way to further reduce the waiting list and give living donors a chance to help not just one life, but sometimes many lives.07-28-2020 Paired Exchange

Kidney transplants can be performed from a deceased or living donor. Living donors are often a family or friend, but they can also be anonymous, non-directed donors, meaning they are not donating to someone they know. Often, when someone wishes to donate anonymously, that donation can spark a chain of kidney transplants, a process known as paired donor kidney transplant. While all organ donors are genuinely altruistic, giving and unselfish people, non-directed donors are sometimes referred to as “altruistic donors.”

In kidney paired donation, the non-directed kidney donation goes to a recipient who has a potential donor identified, but that person is not a compatible match. That donor then “pays forward” their donation to someone else on the waiting list. If that person also had a non-compatible donor, that donor can also donate to someone else. This chain of donations could go on to save many lives.

Other situations offer opportunities for kidney paired donation. Even if a donor matches their recipient, the match might not be perfect. The donor may be significantly older than the recipient or the two might not be an ideal size match. Participation in kidney paired donation might give recipients the opportunity for a more “perfect” kidney which could bring better kidney function and patient survival.

Mayo Clinic performed its first paired kidney donation in 2007 with a two-way paired donation. A son desperately wanted to donate to his father, but their blood types weren’t a match. However, the son had the option to swap his kidney with someone else who had a donor that didn’t match. Mayo Clinic was able to find another donor/recipient pair that was incompatible due to antibody resistance. The pairs matched and the transplants were performed in November 2007. With more than 13 years of experience facilitating paired donor kidney transplants, Mayo Clinic has now completed over 500 transplants using kidney paired donation and is hoping to complete many more in the coming years.

Becoming a donor is a choice you need to make for yourself. You should not feel pressured to be tested or to donate. Not everyone can be a donor and not everyone should be a donor. A person needs to be medically healthy and psychosocially stable. They need to be financially stable enough to take time off work. By qualifying to be a living donor, whether for someone you know and love or just because you know there is a need, you could save the lives of many people by starting a chain of kidney transplants through the paired donor process we described. If you would like more information about non-directed kidney donation, visit our blog Q&A with Kay Kosberg, RN, CCTC, our Enterprise Donation Coordinator or check out this video about paired donation for more details.

Have you participated in kidney paired donation? Tell us about your experience!


I am a couple of months out from being an altutruistic living donor in a chain. My experience has been remarkable. Everyone at the Phoenix Mayo transplant team has been supportive, helpful, talented and kind. I am healing well and have no restrictions anymore. My next check up will be at the 6 month marker. Someday I hope to hear from whoever received my kidney and how they are doing. Right now I know nothing about them. I also would love to hear about how far the chain reached and the number of people given new opportunity at life.

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