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Live kidney donation facts

July 09, 2014

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Live organ donation is truly a gift of a lifetime, but Matthew Ellis, MD, medical director of Duke’s kidney transplant program, says many people don’t realize that they can give this gift of life without endangering their own.

Myths and facts about live kidney donation

Duke performs about 120 kidney transplants every year, and a third are from living donors. Here, Dr. Ellis sets the record straight regarding five common misconceptions that potential kidney donors may have:

I have to be related to someone to donate a kidney to him or her.

New anti-rejection medications make it possible to donate to distant relatives, even friends. But wanting to donate doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to do so.

Duke’s transplant team takes prospective donors through a careful physical and psychological screening process -- much of which can be done remotely for donors who live far away -- to make sure the donor can undergo the surgery with no ill effects, physical or otherwise.

The surgery is difficult, expensive, and I’ll need to take a lot of time off.

Today’s kidney donation surgery usually takes only a few hours, and it requires only a few small incisions and two or three days in the hospital.

“We say it usually takes three weeks to get back to almost all of your normal activities, and about six to eight weeks to feel completely back to normal,” says Leslie Hicks, RN, Duke’s kidney transplant coordinator.

All hospital expenses are paid for by the recipient’s medical coverage -- only costs of travel, time off work, and a few post-surgery medications aren’t covered, and there are several organizations that may help cover those costs for donors who cannot.

After the surgery, my life will be different, and it might limit what I can do.

Careful screening of donors means that only people who are in very good health will be selected -- and for those people, the risks of future complications are very low.

Women of childbearing age can still have healthy pregnancies after donating, and the risk for future kidney disease is not affected by the donation of a single kidney.

“Your health care needs after the surgery are essentially the same as before the surgery,” says Ellis.

Kidney donors will need regular blood and urine tests to monitor kidney function, and they need to watch their blood pressure, so they must visit their regular physician every year but, Hicks points out, that’s something all of us should do anyway.

If my intended recipient and I aren’t a match, the process ends there.

Thanks to Duke's paired kidney donation program, if you and your loved one are not a compatible match, you can be put into a database that multiple hospitals use to search for other incompatible donor and recipient pairs who might fit your criteria -- meaning the other donor gives your loved one a kidney, and you give yours to their loved one.

Duke doesn’t accept “Good Samaritan” kidney donations.

Duke is now accepting altruistic donors -- those who are willing to donate a kidney to a recipient in need, even if that person is a stranger.

Nearly 90,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney donation. To learn more about organ donation, visit unos.org or kidney.org. Or, learn more about the process by filling out this questionnaire.

Learn more about the kidney transplant program at Duke

Kidney transplants
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