Living Organ Donation

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be related to my recipient?

No, you do not need to be related to the person to whom you wish to donate. While many transplant recipients receive a kidney or liver donated by a blood relative, or others in their lives who are close to them, some people step forward as “altruistic donors” to donate organs anonymously to those in need.

How are living donors and recipients matched?

Living donors and potential recipients are matched by blood type and tissue typing; physical size and age are also taken into consideration. Gender and ethnicity are not factors in matching patients, although some matches are more frequent within certain ethnic groups.

What are expected hospital stays and recovery times?

These estimates will vary on a case by case basis.

Kidney Donors: Generally, as a kidney donor, one could expect to stay in the hospital for two to three days post-surgery. Most kidney donors resume normal activities after two to four weeks depending on the physical demands of daily living and work. There could be a two week driving restriction and a four to six week lifting restriction.

Liver Donors: Generally, as a liver donor, one could expect to stay in the hospital up to a week or longer in some cases. The liver typically regrows to normal size in two months. Most liver donors return to work and normal activities within three months.

What happens if my remaining kidney stops working?

For the benefit of both the donor and the recipient, potential living kidney donors undergo a very thorough psychological and medical screening to ensure they are healthy and suitable to undergo the procedure. In very rare cases, a kidney donor may experience loss of kidney function in the years following their kidney donation. Should this occur, priority is given to a prior living donor according to national organ transplant waiting list regulations.

What happens if I need a liver transplant as a result of donating?

For the benefit of both the donor and the recipient, potential living liver donors undergo a very thorough psychological and medical screening to ensure they are healthy and suitable to undergo the procedure. The need for a liver donor to need a transplant is typically a rare event. The donor would get priority on the list based on the severity of illness.

Who has access to any of my evaluation and test results?

Test results are confidential under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA). A transplant patient cannot access any personal information about a donor.

Who pays for living donor transplants?

Costs of the donor evaluation, surgery, hospitalization, doctors’ fees and follow-up medical visits are typically covered under the recipient’s private insurance and/or Medicare. The costs for travel expenses, lodging or other non-medical expenses are not covered. It is illegal under federal law to receive money or gifts in exchange for an organ donation and therefore, organ donors are never financially compensated. However, funding may be available through the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NDLAC) grant for donor travel and expenses.

Who pays for future medical expenses and travel expenses?

The transplant recipient’s insurance will cover your medical expenses, which includes the evaluation, surgery and follow-up tests and appointments. However, the recipients insurance may not cover follow-up services if medical problems occur from the donation. Expenses such as travel, lodging, phone calls and lost wages are not covered by insurance. Some donors have reported difficulty in getting, affording, or keeping health, disability, or life insurance. It is important that you talk with your own insurance carrier before making a decision about being a living donor. Your premiums could increase. If you do not have health insurance, serving as a donor could be considered a pre-existing condition if you apply for insurance later. If you work, talk with your employer about leave policies before committing to living donation. Also, think carefully about the financial impact on your family, especially if you and/or your caregiver may face lost wages during the donation recovery process. Talk to a transplant center about financial concerns as they have resources available that may help cover expense incurred that are not covered by insurance.

Will I have a scar?

Kidney Donor: In the most cases, the surgical removal of the donor’s kidney (called a donor nephrectomy) is done laparoscopically. This procedure involves two to three small incisions in the abdomen and one larger incision (6-9 centimeters) through which the kidney is removed. In a small number of cases, a laparoscopic nephrectomy is not an option, so the surgery involves a five to seven inch incision on the side of the chest and upper abdomen.

Liver Donor:  In most cases, the incision heals quickly, leaving a scar that fades over time but will always be visible. If a wound infection develops, an individual may be left with a wider scar. Occasionally, donors develop what is called a keloid, which is the over-growing or over-healing of the skin that results in a raised scar. Keloids can be corrected by plastic surgery if desired. However, this corrective cosmetic surgery is unlikely to be covered by your recipient's insurance.

How long will I continue to require medical care?

A transplant center will be the best source of information, but in most cases, transplant centers are required to report data up to 24 months after a transplant which requires follow-up appointments at six, twelve and twenty-four months post donation. As a previous living donor, an individual must commit to following a healthy lifestyle, eating right and exercising, and getting annual check-ups with their primary physician.