What you need to know about finding a living kidney donor.
There are currently over 100,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant. And, unfortunately, many of those people could be waiting up to nine years to receive a donation from someone who passed away.
However, for those who are committed to finding a living donor, a kidney transplant could occur in as little as four to six weeks.
There are over 100,000 people waiting for a #KidneyTransplant. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, transplant nephrologist Dr. Thomas shares how finding a #LivingDonor can shave years off your wait time: https://bit.ly/2MS2kM1.
Who is eligible for a kidney transplant?
If you have a kidney disease that causes your kidney to function at 20% or less, you may be eligible for a kidney transplant. A timely kidney transplant can help you to avoid dialysis and related complications. While you won’t be eligible for a transplant until your kidney function has decreased below 20%, you may want to consider proactively beginning your search for a living kidney donor before then.
What are the benefits of finding a living kidney donor?
Many patients on the kidney donor waitlist eventually receive a kidney transplant from someone who passed away and donated their organs. This can take years and many people with kidney disease don’t have years to wait. Additionally, patients who are waiting may spend quite a bit of time on dialysis, which can be challenging emotionally and physically.
Finding a living kidney donor offers many advantages. Not only can it help you to receive your transplant much faster, but it can also decrease the amount of time you need to spend on dialysis—or eliminate your need for dialysis altogether. In fact, recipients of a living kidney donation find that their new healthy kidney works immediately because it’s coming from someone who has already been screened and identified as healthy. In comparison, nearly one-third of patients who receive a kidney donation from a deceased donor still need dialysis after the transplant, which is called a delayed function of kidney transplant. That’s because the kidney may have traveled a long distance or needs some time to return to full function.
How do you find a living donor?
Many people don’t know they have kidney disease. And even once you’ve been diagnosed, it’s not always obvious to people around you, even if you’re on dialysis. They won’t know you need a living donor unless you ask.
It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but having the courage and taking the initiative to ask can help to save your life. As a transplant nephrologist, I’ve witnessed some incredibly creative ways that people have asked for a kidney donation—and successfully found one.
In one instance, a man wore a cardboard sign that told his wife’s story of needing a kidney, walking up and down the streets of Greenville, North Carolina. As a result, nearly 100 people called the kidney center to donate! In another case, a woman wrote her son’s story on her car and an employee at Walmart saw the car and wanted to donate.
The opportunities to ask are limitless, but other ideas for finding a living donor include:
- Sharing your story with family and friends via word of mouth
- Wearing a t-shirt with your story in a large gathering (e.g. at Disney)
- Creating a social media page on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube to tell your story
- Posting your story in a church, work, or school bulletin or newsletter
- Publishing a small web page that shares your story
There are also a variety of resources that can help you to ask for a living donor. At MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, we help interested patients create a personal website for free where they can share their story. The National Kidney Foundation also offers a variety of tips for “The Big Ask” on their website.
Who can be a living donor?
A living donor could be your personal trainer, a sorority sister, someone you meet at Disney, or a complete stranger. The only qualifications are that your living donor is:
- Of sound mind and body
- Over the age of 18
- Identified as healthy through our thorough screening process
When you’re searching for a living donor, you can trust that your healthcare team will do the work to ensure a good match. In fact, you don’t have to worry about even sharing your blood type—or identity, if you don’t want to.
That’s because there’s a Paired Kidney Exchange program that allows your living donor volunteer and you to be entered into a national registry. If a living donor who responds to your request doesn’t match your blood type, they may end up matching someone else in the registry who found a donor that didn’t match them. And, since you’ve been entered into the registry as well, you can be matched with someone else. Not only do you and someone else find a match, but others on the list move up. Everyone benefits!
How can my living donor start the process?
The first step to starting the living donation process is filling out a questionnaire. There’s no limit to the number of people who can submit a questionnaire in response to your ask, and we’ll do the work to find and screen the best candidates of those who volunteer.
After that, we conduct a comprehensive screening process to ensure that your living donor’s kidney is healthy. In most cases, the screening process could be completed in a month—or sooner if it’s an emergency situation. And, your living kidney donor doesn’t have to be local. If it’s someone in a different state who sees your story online, we can help them complete their screening at a nearby clinic, and we’ll help to cover any related costs for them to travel for the procedure. Once approved, the transplant procedure could occur within four to six weeks.
Surgery generally takes two to three hours, and in many cases, patients are discharged the next day. Your living donor will need to take it easy for a few weeks, and we’ll follow-up at regular intervals to check their labs and overall health.
Interested in being a kidney donor? Here’s what you should know.
If you’re considering being a kidney donor, there are a few things that may help you to make your decision.
- You can choose to donate anonymously or reveal your identity.
- Your testing and procedure costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance.
- We offer a stipend program to help cover any related costs for travel, recovery, etc.
- Your donation will only affect 20 to 40% of your kidney function, not half.
- If you later develop kidney disease and need a transplant yourself, you advance to the top of the transplant list.
In 2020, we were pleased to have over 100 living kidney donors, despite the challenges of the worldwide health pandemic. Our transplants are performed on a COVID-free floor with strict precautions that limit visitors to ensure everyone’s safety. It’s never been safer to save someone’s life by becoming a living donor.
Watch our Facebook Live broadcast with Dr. Thomas to learn more about finding a living kidney donor: