If you have two healthy kidneys, you may have the ability to save a life. Most people have two kidneys, but they really only need one to maintain good health.
That makes it possible for someone with a healthy pair to donate one to someone whose kidneys no longer function correctly. This is called a living donation because the donor is alive and well at the time of the donation.
Many people who choose to donate a kidney do so to help a friend or loved one whose kidneys are failing. In general, a genetic match between the donor and recipient may reduce the chance the recipient’s body will reject the organ.
But you don’t have to be related or even know the person who needs a kidney to become a donor.
Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about being a kidney donor:
Donating a kidney is a permanent step that will physically change your body. You’ll need to have medical tests to make sure it is safe for you to be a donor and that the organ you want to donate is healthy for the recipient.
In order to be a donor, you must be over 18 but under age 65, in good health and clear of any major medical problems. You should be an appropriate weight for your height and should not have a history of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.
You cannot have diseases that you could share with the recipient such as hepatitis, HIV or cancer.
Tests may include:
• Blood tests to learn your blood type and other physical characteristics to help match your kidney to the recipient
• X-Rays to check the condition of your heart and lungs
• Urine samples to make sure your kidney is functioning correctly
• Complete gynecological exams and mammograms for women to ascertain good health
Donating an organ can have a significant mental and emotion impact in addition to the impact on your health.
If you know the person you are donating to, you’ll need to consider how your donation may affect your relationship. Also think about how you will feel if the donation is not successful or your kidney is rejected after surgery.
In order to be a donor, you must be free of mental problems that could interfere with your ability to make the decision to donate an organ. You may benefit from talking to a number of people such as family, a counselor or a religious advisor as you evaluate your own emotions and reasons for being a donor.
You must also be able to understand the risks to your own health and the process you will go through as a donor. Potential long-term risks of kidney donation include:
• High blood pressure
• Protein in the urine which can indicate that your remaining kidney is not healthy
• Kidney failure
Organ donors are not paid for donating an organ. Medical expenses for organ donation may or may not be covered by the recipient’s insurance. Costs that may be covered include testing before surgery, hospital bills and other medical expenses directly connected with the donation.
You will likely be responsible for many other expenses including food, travel costs, a place to stay before or after surgery if you are not at home, loss of income and child care while you recover from the donation surgery.
If you have disability insurance, some of these costs may be covered. Check with your insurance provider for the details of your plan.
If you decide to donate to someone you know, contact your recipient’s transplant center or hospital and ask to speak to the kidney transplant coordinator. Or you can search the Transplant Center Directory to find a hospital that performs transplants in your area.
National Kidney Foundation. Q&A on Living Donation. Web. March 5, 2015.
About.com: Health. How to Donate an Organ to a Friend or Family Member. Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C. Web. March 5, 2015.
Transplant Living. Making the Decision. Web. March 5, 2015.
Reviewed March 6, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith