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Becoming a Living Donor

What You Need to Know

November 17, 2014

If you are considering becoming a living organ donor at Duke, the following information should answer some of the questions you have. Please call the Living Donor Transplant office at 1-800-249-5864 if you are interested in becoming a living donor.

Who Can Become a Living Donor at Duke?

While a living donor can be a family member, such as a parent, child, brother or sister (this is known as a living related donation), the gift of a live donation can also come from a non related donor, such as a friend, group affiliation (church, clubs, and social circles) spouse or an in-law (this is a living unrelated donation). In some cases, living donation may even come from a stranger. This is referred to as a non-directed or altruistic donation.

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

Blood typing and cross-matching is done to determine if you are a suitable match for your recipient. In some cases, donors who are not a direct match choose to participate in Kidney Paired Donation, a program which matches donors with recipients whose donors do not match or who do not have an intended recipient. Evaluation testing often includes interviews with transplant providers, physical examinations, imaging studies, blood testing, psychosocial assessments and evaluations 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. Your organ will be removed on the same day as it is placed inside 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 require pain medicines for the first few weeks. You will be seen in post-operative clinic at two weeks and then as needed if health issues arise. You will not be permitted to drive or return to work until given permission by the surgeon. This usually takes about one to two weeks, although this may vary from person to person. You are encouraged to increase your activity daily. Kidney donation patients are usually able to return to work four to eight weeks after the donation; liver and lung patients may require between 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, a donor’s evaluation and donation are paid for by the recipient’s insurance. Additionally, the recipient’s insurance often (but not always, it is important to know your situation) covers the expenses of any complications after donation. 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 preventative care and monitoring of your non donated organ. You are encouraged to contact our office if you are experiencing 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 & condition at 6 months, 1 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 that we can stay in touch with you.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Donor?

The recipient benefits from a decrease in wait time on the transplant waiting list, as well as improved patient and graft survival outcomes, including fewer complications. The donor (you) can have positive psychological benefits from having helped the recipient. The donor (you) may also be alerted to an underlying health issue during the evaluation which may prevent donation but would allow you to seek early medical intervention.

What If I Decide Not to Donate?

Donation is a voluntary act and you may stop the evaluation at any time prior to 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