Becoming a Living Donor

What You Need to Know

Updated September 20, 2018

If you are considering becoming a living kidney, liver, or lung donor at Duke, the following information should answer some of your questions.

Who Can Become a Living Donor at Duke?

The gift of a live donation can come from a number of sources, including:

  • Living related donation: from a family member such as a parent, child, brother, or sister 
  • Living unrelated donation: from someone not related to the recipient, such as a friend, member of an affiliated group (such as a church, club, or social circle), spouse, or in-law
  • Nondirected, or altruistic donation: from someone who is a stranger to the recipient

How Will I Know If I Can Be a Living Donor?

Blood typing and cross-matching are done to determine if you are a suitable match for your intended recipient. For kidney donors, if your kidney is not a match for your intended recipient, you may be able to take part in our paired kidney exchange program. In this program, donors essentially “swap” recipients so that each receives a compatible organ. 

Donor evaluations include interviews with transplant providers, physical examinations, imaging studies, blood testing, and psychosocial assessments to determine your safety and suitability as a donor.

How Is the Living Donor Surgery Performed?

You and your surgeon will discuss the most appropriate surgical approach for you. Most people qualify for a laparoscopic or hand-assisted procedure, which shortens recovery times and allows you to get back to life with minimal pain and in the shortest period of time. Possible surgical risks include blood clots, pneumonia, unusual heart rhythms, wound infections, urinary tract infections, incisional hernia(s), stroke, and death. On the day your organ (or part of it) is removed it will be transplanted into the recipient.

How Long Will I Be in the Hospital and Need to Recover?

Donors are typically in the hospital for one to two days. After discharge, you may need pain medicines for the first few weeks. You will be seen in post-operative clinic one to two weeks after surgery, and then as needed if health issues arise. You will not be permitted to drive or return to work until you receive permission from the surgeon. This usually takes about one to two weeks, although it varies from person to person. You are encouraged to increase your activity daily. Kidney donors are usually able to return to work four to eight weeks after surgery; liver and lung donors may need four to 12 weeks.

How Is the Donation Paid For?

Donors cannot be compensated with anything of value for their donation. The sale of organs in the United States is prohibited. In general, the recipient’s insurance pays for a donor’s evaluation and donation. Additionally, the recipient’s insurance often covers the expenses of any complications after donation. This is often, but not always the case, so it’s important to know your situation. 

Transportation expenses may be (but are not usually) covered by insurance. You are encouraged to visit the National Living Donor Assistance Center or call toll free 1-888-870-5002 for financial assistance with travel expenses.

There is no compensation for lost wages, but you are encouraged to check with your employer for possible programs. There is the possibility that future insurability -- including health, disability, and/or life insurance -- may be affected by donation.

How Will Donating an Organ Affect My Life?

After donation, you should commit to annual visits with your primary physician for preventive care and monitoring of your nondonated organ. You are encouraged to contact our office if you are having any problems; we will help you determine if your problem is donation-related. Furthermore, we would like to see you for any problems related to donation.

After donation, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) requires updates related to your recovery and condition at six months, 1 year, and 2 years. You will be contacted by phone for these updates. If your doctor has conducted labs or studies, we will ask for permission to obtain copies. These data are submitted to UNOS to monitor national outcomes after living donation. Follow-up is a requirement of our program and UNOS. If your contact information changes, please notify us so we can stay in touch with you.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Donor?

The recipient benefits from shortened wait time on the transplant waiting list, as well as improved patient and transplanted organ outcomes, including fewer complications. You, the donor, can have positive psychological benefits from having helped your recipient. You may also be alerted during the evaluation to an underlying health issue, which may prevent donation but would allow you to seek early medical treatment.

What If I Decide Not to Donate?

Donation is a voluntary act, and you may stop the evaluation at any time before the donation. You may speak with the Independent Living Donor Advocate (ILDA) or any team member for assistance with this. Your decision to stop the donation process will be kept confidential and not disclosed to the recipient.

Learn More About
Duke's Transplant Program