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How to be a hero: 3 FAQs about being a living kidney donor

By The Health News Team | April 20, 2022
Woman in hospital bed

Do you have what it takes to be a hero? If you have two healthy kidneys and are in overall good health, you just might. More than 89,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant, and you can help by becoming a living kidney donor.

Living donation is when a living person — a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor or even a stranger — donates a kidney for transplantation to another person. It offers another option for some transplant candidates and leads to better long-term outcomes. What’s more, living donation gives donors the opportunity to be a true hero by giving someone the gift of life.

According to Tammy Wright, RN, a transplant coordinator with the Sharp HealthCare Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, living donation is extremely important because of the number of people currently waiting for a kidney transplant.

“There are 89,982 people waiting for a kidney transplant,” Wright says. “However, in 2021, there were just 18,699 deceased kidney transplants and 5,971 living transplants. Beyond increasing the number of kidneys available to recipients, living donor kidney transplant can take place sooner, providing a way for recipients to avoid transplant waitlist times of five to 10 years.”

Top 3 questions about living kidney donation
If you have ever been curious about whether living kidney donation might be right for you, read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions on being a living donor:

Who can be a living donor?
To be a living donor, you must be in good health and not have high blood pressure or diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney, heart and blood disease. Also, your blood type must match the recipient’s blood type.

You must also be:
• Willing to voluntarily donate a kidney
• A nonsmoker
• On no more than one medication to control blood pressure
• Not overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or lower
• Over age 18
• Committed to taking care of your health after donation

According to Donate Life America, if you hope to donate a kidney to a particular person but tests reveal you are not a good medical match, paired donation or paired kidney exchange is another option. In paired donation, two or more incompatible donor-recipient pairs are matched for a kidney “swap,” so each recipient receives a compatible transplant.

What happens when you decide to be a living donor?
Testing to see if you are a match will first need to be done. This will involve blood testing and exams to determine that you are physically healthy enough to donate.

This typically includes:
• A chest X-ray
• Appointments with the donor advocate, donor surgeon, kidney specialist (nephrologist) and a social worker
• An electrocardiogram (EKG) of your heart
• A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your kidneys
• Blood and urine testing
• A Pap smear (if you are female and over age 20)
• A mammogram (if you are female and over age 40)

Additional testing may be requested by the nephrologist or surgeon. If you have abnormal test results, you may be referred to your own doctor for a thorough evaluation.

The fees for all pre-donation testing, preoperative appointments, hospitalization, surgery and one to two postoperative visits will be paid by Medicare or the recipient’s insurance (insurance coverage varies). On average, most kidney donors are hospitalized for one to two nights for the transplant surgery.

Are there risks to being a living donor?
Your health and well-being are as much of a concern for the transplant team as the recipient’s health and well-being are. Though you will only have one kidney operating after the procedure, the risks are minimal. The remaining kidney takes on the responsibilities of both kidneys.

You will experience some pain and discomfort after the procedure for approximately one week but will otherwise be able to resume normal activity with no lifestyle changes. Most kidney donors should be able to return to exercise about four to six weeks after surgery. However, as with any major surgery, there is always a risk of complications.

“Living donation prolongs the lifespan of the recipient and frees them from dialysis,” Wright says. “It truly transforms their life — and can also transform the life of the donor.”

Learn more about becoming a living donor, and fill out and submit Sharp’s living kidney donor intake form.

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