Living Donation

Living donation offers another choice for transplant candidates, and it saves two lives: the recipient and the next one on the deceased organ waiting list.

Even better, kidney and liver patients who are able to receive a living donor transplant can receive the best quality organ much sooner, often in less than a year.

Quick Facts

  • Living organ donation and transplantation was developed as a direct result of the critical shortage of deceased donors.
  • Living donation is an opportunity to save a life while you are still living.
  • Living donation is not covered by your donor registration and must be considered personally and discussed directly with a transplant center.
  • Today, one in four living donors are not biologically related to the recipient.
  • Living donation offers an alternative for individuals awaiting transplantation from a deceased donor and increases the existing organ supply, saving more lives.
  • If you are considering being a living donor, it is critical to gather as much information as you can from various sources.

The Need

  • More than 115,000 men, women and children await lifesaving organ transplants.
  • 82% of patients waiting are in need of a kidney.
  • 13% of patients waiting are in need of a liver.
  • A living donor is an option for these and other patients who otherwise may face a lengthy wait for an organ from a deceased donor.
  • To spare an individual a long and uncertain wait, relatives, loved ones, friends, and even individuals who wish to remain anonymous may serve as living donors.
  • Living donors made nearly 6,000 transplants possible in 2015.

< Back to all types of donation

Types of Living Donation

Directed Donation

In a directed donation, the donor specifically names the person to which they are donating who will receive the transplant. This is the most common type of living donation. In a directed donation, the donor may be:

  • a biological relative, such as a parent, brother, sister, or adult child
  • a biologically unrelated person who has a personal or social connection with the transplant candidate, such as a spouse or significant other, a friend or a coworker
  • a biologically unrelated person who has heard about the transplant candidate’s need

Non-Directed / Altruistic Donation

In a non-directed donation, the living donor is not related to or known by the recipient, but makes his/her donation purely out of selfless motives. The match is arranged based on medical compatibility with a patient in need. Some non-directed donors choose never to meet their recipient. In other cases, the donor and recipient may meet at some time, if they both agree, and if the transplant center policy permits it.

Paired Donation

Also called paired kidney exchange, paired donation or paired exchange involves at least two pairs of living kidney donors and transplant candidates who do no not have matching blood types. The candidates “trade” donors so that each candidate receives a kidney from a donor with a compatible blood type.

Who can Donate?

Living donors should be in good overall physical and mental health and older than 18 years of age. Some medical conditions could prevent an individual from being a living donor. Since some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important that living donor candidates share all information about their physical and mental health. It is important to be fully informed of the known risks involved with donating and complete a full medical and psychosocial evaluation. The decision to donate should be completely voluntary and free of pressure or guilt.


Living donation is major surgery. All complications of major surgery apply. These include:

  • pain
  • infection at the incision site
  • incisional hernia
  • pneumonia
  • blood clots
  • hemorrhaging
  • potential need for blood transfusions
  • side effects associated with allergic reactions to the anesthesia
  • death

The best source of information about risks and expected donor outcomes is the transplant team. In addition, it is important to take an active role in learning more about these potential surgical risks and long-term complications.

Living donors may also experience negative psychological symptoms right after donation or later. The transplanted organ may not work right away. There is also the chance it will not work at all. Donors may feel sad, anxious, angry, or resentful after surgery. Donation may change the relationship between donor and recipient.

Living donors must be made aware of the physical and psychological risks involved before they consent to donate an organ. Please discuss all feelings, questions and concerns with a transplant professional and/or social worker.

How to Start the Process

To help someone through living donation, talk to him or her and the transplant program where the person is listed. To be a non-directed living donor, contact a transplant center to find out if they have this type of donation program.

Laurell and Katherine’s Living Donation Story


“Because of Katherine, we are planning for life again,” says Laurell. “Katherine is a beautiful soul.” Click here to read their full story.


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Be socially responsible

95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor but only 54% are registered.
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