Becoming a Living Donor

What You Need to Know

Updated March 28, 2022

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 donation: from someone who is a stranger to the recipient.

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

Blood typing -- and for kidney and lung donors, cross-matching -- is done to determine if you are a match for your intended recipient. For kidney donors, if your kidney is not a match, 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.

Potential living donors for any organ must be in good physical and psychosocial health. Donor evaluations include assessments with transplant providers, physical examinations, imaging studies, blood testing, and psychosocial assessments to determine if organ donation is appropriate and safe for you.

How Is the Living Donor Surgery Performed?

You and your surgeon will discuss the most appropriate surgical approach for you. For example, most kidney donor surgeries are laparoscopic or hand-assisted procedures, which shorten recovery times and allow 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.

Kat Williams and her kidney donor, Pat Gearity, discuss their transplant journey with hope of inspiring others to give the gift of life. 

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

Time spent in the hospital depends on the organ donated and the method of surgery. Kidney donors are typically in the hospital for one to two days. Lung and liver donors usually stay for five to seven days. After you leave the hospital, you may need pain medication for the first few weeks. You will be seen for a follow-up appointment one to two weeks after surgery, and then as needed. You will not be permitted to drive or return to work until you receive permission from your surgeon. This usually takes about one to two weeks, but it varies from person to person. You are encouraged to increase your activity daily as tolerated. Kidney donors are generally able to return to work four to six weeks after surgery; liver and lung donors may need four to twelve weeks. This depends on your job requirements and how well you are recovering.

How Is the Donation Paid For?

The recipient’s insurance pays for a donor’s evaluation and donation surgery. It may also cover the cost of treating any complications after donation. Because this is not always the case, it’s important to understand coverage before donation. The sale of organs in the United States is prohibited.

You are encouraged to visit the National Living Donor Assistance Center or call toll free 1-888-870-5002 to learn about financial assistance related to travel. Other organizations and your employer may also offer financial assistance. You can ask your transplant coordinator for an updated list of these programs. It is possible that your insurance coverage and rates -- including health, disability, and/or life -- may be affected by donation.

How Will Donating an Organ Affect My Life?

After donation, you should visit your primary doctor yearly for preventive care and to monitor your non-donated organ. Call the Duke Living Donor Transplant office at 1-800-249-5864 if you experience any health problems; we will help you determine if your condition is donation-related. 

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) requires updates on your recovery and condition six months, one year, and two years after donation. You will be contacted by phone for these updates. If your primary care doctor has conducted labs or studies, we will ask for for copies to share with UNOS. This data is used to monitor national outcomes after living donation. Follow-up is a requirement of our program and UNOS. If your contact information changes, please notify our office so we can stay in touch with you.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Donor?

The recipient benefits from shortened wait time and improved patient and transplanted organ outcomes, including fewer complications. As a donor, you 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