Starting The Donation Process

Becoming a living donor is an incredible opportunity, and patients who receive a living donor’s kidney or liver generally experience significantly better outcomes than patients waiting for deceased donations. Because they do not need to remain on the waiting list as long, recipients of living donations are often in better health, which minimizes surgical risks and improves recovery. The donors are also carefully selected, and the donated organ often does better because it can so quickly be transplanted into the recipient. These positive factors contribute to better donated organ survival, reducing or delaying the likelihood of needing another transplant in the future.

While these benefits are significant, the decision to become a living donor is not one to make lightly. Although it’s rare for living donors to experience long-term complications, it is important to be aware of the potential hurdles related to recovering from surgery as well as financial and logistical considerations.

Anyone interested in becoming a living donor must first undergo a comprehensive screening process to help ensure that donor and recipient are a good match and that the recipient isn’t at extra risk for long-term complications. When starting this process, our team urges donors to consider the following:

  • The decision to donate is entirely yours to make. For this reason you’ll be asked whether you give consent to donate several times throughout the screening process. This gives you multiple opportunities to make sure your decision feels right.
  • Living donation will not benefit you beyond the knowledge that you tried to save or improve a life. Occasionally the evaluation process may uncover an illness that you may not have known about. You should recognize that the outcome, while usually positive, is not guaranteed.

The Initial Screening

After expressing your willingness to donate, a member of the RMTI’s Donor Advocacy Team (a multidisciplinary, independent group of healthcare providers expert in live donation) will call you to review your medical history. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. You can also download and complete a Donor Screening Form then send it to us.

In the course of this initial screening, potential donors will be assessed for the following criteria:

  • Compatible blood type
  • Healthy weight (Body mass index <35)
  • Age 18 or older
  • No chronic illnesses that could be affected by removal of kidney or liver
  • No uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • No diabetes
  • No infectious disease or cancer
  • No family history of genetic kidney or liver disease
  • No severe, active psychiatric disorders
  • No current or recent history of alcohol or substance abuse
  • No evidence of coercion or payment

We also offer educational classes on live kidney and liver donation, and encourage our potential donors to attend.

The Comprehensive Donor Evaluation

Potential donors who pass this initial screening will meet with the Zweig Family Center team for a more thorough evaluation, which typically consists of the following:

  • A donor education class
  • Blood and urine tests
  • An electrocardiogram
  • A chest x-ray
  • A psychosocial assessment by a social worker
  • An ultrasound of the kidney or MRI of the abdomen and liver
  • An MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) of the abdomen
  • A cardiac stress test and echocardiogram (age 50+)
  • For women: a pap smear (if one hasn’t been done in three years) and mammogram (if age 40+)
  • An oral glucose tolerance test (recommended for BMI over 30 or strong family history of diabetes)

Paired Kidney Exchanges

If you’d like to be a living donor but don’t match your intended recipient, you could ask your physician if it’s possible to take part in an organ exchange. These are arrangements in which donors essentially trade recipients (and vice versa), so that all receive a matching organ. Such exchanges can get quite intricate and are sometimes arranged with the help of computer data bases.

After the Screening

After successfully completing the screening, surgery can be scheduled. We are pleased to provide additional information about the surgery and recovery for living kidney transplants and living liver transplants.

As for the cost of becoming a living kidney or liver donor, the recipient's insurance company covers the expense of the donor evaluation process, surgery, and post-surgical care.