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What is living organ donation?

Living organ donation is an opportunity to save a life while you are still alive. When a patient experiences liver failure, the liver no longer functions properly. The medical team may try to salvage whatever function the liver still has, but eventually the patient may require a liver transplant to stay alive. For liver patients, there is no alternative, like dialysis for kidney patients, so sometimes transplant is done urgently to save the person’s life.

Likewise, when a patient experiences renal disease, the kidneys no longer function properly. Eventually, a person with kidney failure will require dialysis, a very disruptive and difficult way to live. While dialysis can greatly help, an even better alternative, for most people, is to be listed for a kidney transplant. Compared to dialysis, kidney transplantation has been proven to increase the length and quality of the recipient’s life.

Unfortunately, the wait for a deceased donor organ can be three to five years or longer for a kidney and six months or longer for a liver. During this time, many potential recipients will get sicker or even die while they are waiting.

A lifesaving alternative is available with living organ donation. Recipients who have a living donor no longer have to wait for an organ from a deceased donor. Living donor organs tend to last significantly longer than deceased donor transplants, and they can be scheduled quickly.

Natalia was born with a rare liver disease and did not have long to live. Diana, a total stranger, heard about Natalia’s plight and did not think twice about donating a portion of her liver. Natalia received the life-saving liver transplant on her first birthday.

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What are the benefits of living organ donation?

By becoming a living organ donor, you have the opportunity to lengthen the life of your recipient, as well as shorten the donor waiting list. Additional benefits of donation include the following:

  • Most recipients wait on the liver transplant list for six months and three to five years on the kidney list, but with a compatible living donor, surgery can be scheduled within weeks.
  • Organs from living donors experience fewer episodes of rejection than organs from deceased donors.
  • Organs from living donors typically last longer than organs from deceased donors.
  • Recipients receiving a transplant from a living donor can better prepare for surgery, knowing well in advance when the transplant will take place.
  • The transplant can take place at a time that is convenient for both the donor and the recipient.
  • Living kidney donation may enable the recipient to stop dialysis sooner—or avoid starting dialysis altogether.

Living Liver Donation - The Fawcett Family

When Miles Fawcell learned that his eight-week-old daughter, Serena, required a liver transplant, he chose to become a donor and gave his daughter the gift of life.

Living Kidney Donation - Tina and Rolanda's Story

Tina McRae, a kidney failure patient, was able to avoid dialysis thanks to her sister’s generous donation.

Who can donate?

Living donors do not need to be genetically related to the organ recipient. Donors consist of relatives, friends, co-workers, and individuals who choose to donate.

Any healthy person can potentially donate an organ. Donors will undergo an extensive physical and mental evaluation, in addition to lab work and a thorough questionnaire, to make sure that they are a suitable candidate. Some basic qualifiers for living organ donors include the following:

  • Older than 18 years of age
  • Good overall physical and mental health
  • Normal organ function
  • Able to give informed consent
  • Fully understand the risks and benefits of donation

When a donor comes forward, we will test to see if the donor is a good match for their intended recipient. However, even if the donor is not compatible to their particular recipient, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute participates in many programs that make it possible for donor/recipient pairs to swap and exchange positions, leading to everyone receiving a transplant, as needed. Therefore, donors should not be concerned if they are a match. We can work with any donor to try to get their recipient transplanted.

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How do I ask someone to donate an organ to me?

The thought of asking someone to donate an organ to you can be scary. How do you ask such an important question? How do you make people aware that you need a liver or kidney?

Many patients know a qualified donor, but they may not know how to ask them to donate. Here are some ways that you can start the conversation and make people aware of your need:

  1. Educate others about living donation - Once you understand living donation, you can explain it to your friends and family. Even if they will not be donating, they may be willing to talk about your needs with others, increasing your chance of finding a donor.
  2. Share your story - By sharing your story with friends, family and/or those in your community, you will help them to understand your need. You may even be fortunate enough to have someone volunteer to be tested as a match. Since many donors and recipients are not related, you never know where you will find a match.
  3. Connect with people outside your inner circle - Thanks to technology, it is easy to share your story via channels such as email and social media. These channels allow your story to easily be shared and enable you to raise awareness about living donation and your search for a donor. Always be cautious and use common sense when sharing any personal information.

Social Media Found the Kidney

Giving has always been a focus and priority for Clyde Horton, 64, of Gaithersburg, Md. He gives his talents, as a leadership trainer and coach, and he gives his time, as head of his neighborhood association and an involved parent in the lives of his two children and their friends.

He also struggled with kidney problems dating back to his 20s, and when his kidney function fell below 20 percent, it was clear he was in need of some help of his own.

Seeking a better option than ACL reconstruction, Kaniya’s father discovered Wiemi DouoguihClyde didn’t want to go on dialysis, so he went on social media instead—telling his Facebook friends he needed a kidney transplant. “My symptoms were starting to get worse. I was retaining fluid, and it was painful. I was starting to get afraid that I would have to go on dialysis, or I might die,” he says.

And here’s where a lifetime of giving has its rewards: a dozen people volunteered to be Clyde’s living donor. Following an evaluation of the volunteers, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute (MGTI) determined Clyde’s former neighbor, Joe Wolken, was a suitable and compatible donor for Clyde.

Suddenly, the man who had given to others all his life had to shift his focus to be willing to receive one of the biggest gifts of all.

Clyde also admits to being surprised that Joe was compatible, since he is AfricanAmerican and Joe is Caucasian. “I thought I had to get an African-American donor,” Clyde explains. “I think it shatters all the illusions about our differences.”

“This is a story of Clyde being on top of things,” explains Basit Javaid, MD, medical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at MGTI. “He approached us at the right time, and we helped guide him to the best treatment option.”

Why should I choose the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute?

The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute is nationally known as a leader in organ transplantation and swaps/exchanges. Benefits that we offer patients and donors include the following:

  • We are one of only a handful of transplant centers in the United States to offer the management of recipients and donors who have incompatible organs or immune system sensitivity.
  • Our patients have access to some of the foremost organ transplant specialists in the country, and this team of multidisciplinary specialists is dedicated to guiding and supporting patients and donors throughout their journey.
  • We have one of the highest volume transplant programs in the United States, and this level of experience leads to better outcomes for our patients.
  • In 2015, our pediatric liver program tied for first place in the number of procedures performed at 32 and our one-year pediatric liver patient survival rate for the same period was 100 percent.
  • A pioneer in advanced liver transplant techniques, MGTI has performed more than 50 split-liver procedures and has led the way in developing the domino liver transplant approach for metabolic liver disease, with exceptional results.
  • We have one of the most experienced liver transplant teams in the region, performing more than 100 transplants a year
  • We established our kidney donor program more than 41 years ago and have performed more than 4,800 kidney transplants.

Meet the people who make the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute among the top 10 transplant centers in the nation.

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Meet our Team

The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute is home to some of the most experienced living organ donation specialists in the country. These specialists partner with you throughout your journey, answering questions you have along the way.

Liver Transplant Specialists

Thomas Fishbein, MD

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Jason Hawksworth, MD

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Raffaele Girlanda, MD

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Alex Kroemer, MD

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Cal Matsumoto, MD

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Thomas Faust, MD

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Stuart S. Kaufman, MD

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Khalid Khan, MD

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Alexander Lalos, MD

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Amol S. Rangnekar, MD

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Rohit S. Satoskar, MD

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Coleman I. Smith, MD, FRACP, FAASLD

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Arul Thomas, MD

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Nada A. Yazigi, MD

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Kidney Transplant Specialists

Matthew Cooper, MD

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Peter Abrams, MD

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Seyed Ghasemian, MD

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Alexander Gilbert, MD

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Monica Grafals, MD

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Basit Javaid, MD

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Jack Moore, Jr., MD

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Jennifer E. Verbesey, MD

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Find a Location

We’re everywhere you are. Our convenient locations throughout the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore regions make it easy to access our experienced multidisciplinary team.

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