Living donor transplant is becoming more common in the U.S. Ten years ago in 2008, around 6,200 living donor transplants were performed. In 2018, that number jumped to nearly 7,000. With nearly 114,000 people waiting for organ transplant today, we hope these donor numbers will continue to increase. When someone donates an organ, it not only shortens the waiting time for the person receiving the organ, but reduces the pressure on the waiting list for others. Living donation gives hope to people waiting for a transplant.
Deciding to be a living donor is a big step, but it also has a huge impact. Living donors account for approximately 50% of kidney transplants performed at Mayo Clinic. This means that patients can get a kidney sooner and avoid the long wait on the deceased donor waiting list. Often they can even avoid dialysis – this is called pre-emptive kidney transplant. By getting a kidney pre-emptively, recipients can have improved quality of life, improved survival rates and lower treatment costs. For living donor liver transplant, family members or friends can donate a portion of their liver to a recipient who may not survive a long wait on the list. Many donors have told us that being able to provide a new life for their loved one is the best thing they have done and most would do it again if they could.
Living donation is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, however. There is risk for healthy people undergoing major surgery, and donors, just like recipients, must take time to recover from their surgery. Because organ donation isn’t a medically necessary surgery for the donor, sometimes employers and businesses aren’t able to support the time needed for evaluation, surgery and recovery. In past years, some donors have even lost their jobs because they made the decision to donate an organ when their employer wasn't able to provide them with time off.
A recent development in the federal government may allow more people to donate organs without having to put their jobs at risk. In August 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor issued an opinion letter stating a healthy organ donor can use medical leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to donate a kidney or part of your liver. Read more about the details of FMLA here, but essentially this means that living donors who are employees with FMLA have up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with their group health benefits maintained. This is a big win for those considering donation whose employers were previously not supportive of their employees being off work for surgery and recovery time. Of note, be sure to read over the FMLA policy if you are considering donation to be sure you meet the qualifications and understand the process.
Even with the new FMLA ruling, employees who are considering donation should still speak with their employers before beginning the process. Tell your employer about the surgery details and ask about disability insurance coverage and the possibility of paid time off for your recovery. Also let them know about your return to work and the restrictions or short-term special needs that might be required for you.
If you were a donor, did you have this policy in place for your donation? How was your return to work after your surgery?