Creating change by raising awareness of causes that ensure a better future.

January 9, 2012

Give Life, Be A Living Kidney Donor!


In 2009, 38 percent of the 16,830 kidney transplants were made possible by the bravery and generosity of living kidney donors. In that year, 6,388 lives were changed because of this life-saving act. All of those donors were willing to undergo surgery to have one of their kidneys removed and live the rest of their lives with a single kidney so that someone else could benefit.

The criteria to become a donor are relatively easy to satisfy, which means that an increasing number of individuals can become donors.

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center requires donors to be between the ages of 18 and 65. Donors must be reasonably fit nonsmokers. Transplant centers often reject overweight volunteers until they lose weight. Donors need not be related to the recipient. Surgeons perform thousands of transplants every year between nonrelatives.

An ideal donor has either the same blood type as the recipient or has type O blood, which is safe for any recipient. The Rh factor does not matter. Rh factors are immunological markers found in blood that are characterized as positive or negative. For example, a type A negative donor can give a kidney to an type A positive recipient. In some situations, a kidney donor may be willing to donate to a particular person, such as a friend or relative, but cannot do so because he is a poor match. In these cases, donors should explore paired donation. Through paired donation, a poorly matched donor can donate to a more suitable recipient, and in exchange, his friend or relative receives a kidney from a different donor, one who is also poorly matched to a particular candidate.

A prospective donor should also have a close tissue match with the recipient. Doctors base this match on six different histocompatibility antigens, immune response markers that characterize the tissue. Doctors determine histocompatibility antigens of prospective donors using a simple blood test. Perfect matching is not required, but some matches are better than others. If a prospective donor is excluded because of an unsuitable tissue match, paired donation is, again, a possible option.

Donors should be free from medical issues that are risks for donation and transplantation. For example, a common medical exclusion for a donor is hypertension. Doctors also evaluate possible cardiovascular and kidney problems because these would exclude someone from donating, as would a prior history of some cancers. Other exclusions include diabetes, intravenous drug use, and certain infectious diseases—hepatitis, for example. Donors who are excluded for medical reasons can often be reevaluated once the condition has resolved.

Prospective donors also undergo psychological evaluations to confirm that they are free from any mental health issues that would make the procedure risky. For example, donors who are mentally unstable are not good candidates because they may be unable to care for themselves properly after surgery. Physicians also make an effort to select donors who would not be psychologically harmed if a recipient ultimately lost the donated kidney.

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