In the United States, more than 120,000 men, women and children await lifesaving organ transplants, and about 80 percent are in need of a kidney. Although that number may seem staggering, kidney donation is unique from other organ donations in that patients do not have to wait for a registered organ donor to pass away. This is called living donation.
Any kidney available for donation can be a lifesaving gift. However, gifts from living donors have several advantages for the recipient of an organ transplant, including:
- A kidney from a living donor usually starts functioning immediately, lasts longer (on average 15-20 years) and performs better, whereas patients who receive a kidney from a deceased donor may require dialysis until their new kidney begins to function on its own.
- A living donation also allows flexibility in scheduling the procedure, as well as the opportunity to find the best possible match for the patient and reduce the risk of rejection after the transplant.
People of any age, ethnicity, country of origin or health status can register their life-saving decision. In response to the shortage of organs for transplantation, relatives, loved ones, friends and even individuals with no prior relationship are serving as living donors for the growing number of people on the national organ transplant waiting list.
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As a potential donor, you can expect to go through a medical evaluation to ensure you are healthy enough to give a kidney. It’s also important to know your rights and have an opportunity to discuss any second thoughts, misgivings or questions.
Evaluation and Surgery Costs
The living donation surgery and evaluation tests are covered by the recipient's (person receiving the transplant) insurance.
Potential Financial Impacts
Some financial expenses associated with being a living donor may include personal expenses, such as travel, housing, childcare costs and lost wages related to making a donation, that might not be reimbursed. Other potential financial impacts to the living donor may include:
- Prescribed medicines not related to the donation
- The need for life-long medical follow-up visits at the donor’s expense
- Loss of employment or income
- Negative impact on the ability to obtain future employment
- Negative impact on the ability to obtain, maintain or afford health, disability and life insurance
- Future health programs experienced by living donors following donation may not be covered by the recipient’s insurance
- Discovery of unanticipated health problems, that need medical attention, during the evaluation process
There are resources that may be available to help you with some donation-related costs. If this is a concern for you, please talk with your transplant financial coordinator to apply for assistance.
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What is a living donor?
A living donor is someone who donates one of his or her kidneys while still alive.
Who can donate?
Potential living donor candidates are:
- Between 18 and 70 years of age
- In excellent health
- Able to maintain a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 33 or less (some exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis)
In addition, candidates must:
- Complete all required testing
- Understand the risks and possible complications of kidney donation
- Live in a stable life situation with family, friends and social support to help during the recovery time
It is not safe to donate a kidney if you have any of the following pre-existing medical conditions:
- Heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure (even if controlled by medicine or diet)
- Seizures, cancer or any other serious medical problem
- Kidney disease, kidney stones or bladder infections (urinary tract infections)
- Any behavioral health illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- Ongoing drug, alcohol or tobacco abuse
How can I become a donor?
You can call the Texas Health Fort Worth transplant center at 1-800-411-2443 or 817-250-2443 to speak with a transplant coordinator. They will ask you some questions over the phone to see if you are a potential candidate.
Once we receive the application, we will contact you to talk through next steps.
What does recovery look like for living donors after surgery?
Living donors can anticipate a 3-4 days hospital stay after surgery. We advise against lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Recovery is different for each patient and good support is imperative during this process.
What will my follow-up care look like?
You will have scheduled appointments at the transplant center at the 2-week, 6-month, 1-year and 2-year mark. During this time, you will complete blood and urine tests and visit with a transplant surgeon.
How much time will I need to be off work to make a complete recovery?
It is recommended living donors take up to 6 weeks to recover before returning to work. Maybe even longer if your job requires you to perform strenuous tasks. You will receive a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital. We ask that you do not to drive for at least two weeks or until you are no longer taking narcotics.
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