In the Lankenau Kidney Transplant Program, living donors are more than
just a kidney; more than just another surgery to perform. Living donors
save lives. Without them, there is no surgery and much less hope. At
Lankenau we provide living donors with the same level of personal care
and professional expertise given to the kidney recipient.
Who Can be a Living Donor?
There are two designations for living donors: Living-Related and
Living-Related Donors: In most cases, a living
donor will be a member of the patient’s own family – a brother,
sister, parent, children or other blood relative who is 18 years
Living-Unrelated Donors: Someone who is not
directly related to the patient (a husband, wife or friend, for
example) may be a possible donor.
Making the Decision to Donate a Kidney
If you are considering becoming a kidney donor, it is important that you
have a full understanding of all aspects of kidney donation and
transplantation. Transplant Team counselors will meet with you to help
you decide what is best for you, for your family and for the recipient
of your kidney.
A number of resources are also available to provide education and
support to possible donors. These are listed in the Education and
Support section of this site.
Assuring the health of the donor and the compatibility of the donor
kidney is one of the first critical steps in the donation process. A
donor must be in good health, and must be tested to see that he or she
has the an acceptable blood group and tissue type. Doctors must also
determine if the donor has any potentially problematic health
The prospective donor will also be counseled regarding long-term health
considerations, financial and insurance matters and other issues that
could affect an individual’s decision to serve as a kidney donor.
All information shared during this process will be kept strictly
confidential between the patient and the Transplant Team. Information
will not be shared with the recipient or the recipient’s physician
unless authorized by the donor.
At any time in the process, the donor can make the decision not to go
forward with the donation.
Potential donors will have blood, urine and radiology tests to check for
health problems, and to determine compatibility with the recipient.
A complete physical exam will be done, including an EKG to assess heart
function, and a chest x-ray to check the lungs for possible
abnormalities. X-rays will also be taken to identify the structure of
the kidney, veins, arteries, ureter and other parts of the anatomy.
Female donors may be asked to undergo a gynecological exam and
Kidney function tests will be performed to evaluate the condition of
your kidneys. Additionally, your medical history will be reviewed for
possible past illnesses or surgeries that could affect your ability to
donate. A psychological evaluation will also be required.
Health Risks & Other Considerations
If you are considering donating a kidney, you need to be aware of the
potential medical risks. But, you should also know that you can live a
normal, healthy life with one kidney.
Urology professionals have long known that diseased kidneys can be
removed from healthy individuals with no long-term consequences to those
individuals. In the United States, surgeons began performing living
donor kidney transplantation in 1954. Over the past nearly 50 years, the
transplant community has had ample opportunity to observe individuals
who have given up a kidney to a loved one. Individual patients have been
followed for more than 20 years after donation, again, proving no
serious long-term consequences.
While there are some potential risks, it is believed that kidney
donation is not only safe, but is the preferred choice of kidney
transplantation for potential kidney transplant recipients. This is
obvious in the fact that all kidney transplant centers in the United
States feel living donor kidney transplantation is ethically and morally
In 2002, more than 40 percent of kidney transplants done in the United
States were from living donors.
There are some medical consequences that have been observed after kidney
donation. To understand these potential problems, it’s important to
understand what happens to kidney function after the removal of one
Kidney Function: Individuals who go from two
functioning kidneys to one functioning kidney lose 50% of their
kidney function immediately at the time of surgery. In a healthy
individual the remaining kidney will eventually hypertrophy, or
grow, and become stronger to eventually provide 70%-80% of
normal function for an individual with two healthy kidneys.
(This is 7-8 times as much kidney function as is needed to
remain healthy and off dialysis.)
A reduction of 20%-30% in kidney function is not
associated with an increased risk of developing kidney
disease. If, however, the individual who donated a
kidney were unfortunate enough to develop a kidney
disease later in life, they would be starting at a 20% -
30% deficit in function. A nephrologist will evaluate
any potential living donor to be sure that there are no
active kidney diseases at the time of donation. But, no
one can predict the future. Fortunately, in the United
States, the incidence of kidney disease requiring
dialysis is quite rare.
Proteinuria: Individuals who donate a kidney
have an increased incidence of protein in the urine. This is
called proteinuria. In many people with kidney disease, protein
in the urine is a marker for kidney damage. However, in kidney
donors, protein in the urine has not been associated with any
progressive damage to the kidney.
Blood Pressure: Kidney donors have a possible
risk of increased blood pressure. It has been shown that
individuals who have donated a kidney have the same incidence of
high blood pressure as the normal U.S. population. Investigators
interpret this observation in different ways. Some believe that
kidney donation is completely safe. Others feel that, since
kidney donors are the healthiest individuals in the country, it
is unlikely that they would have high blood pressure at the time
of the donation. So if, after donation, they share the same
blood pressure as the rest of the population, perhaps kidney
donation may be associated with worsening blood pressure.
Damage to the Remaining Kidney: A concern after
kidney donation is damage to the remaining kidney later in life.
Obviously, once an individual has donated a kidney, they are
relying on the one remaining kidney. Should an obstructing
kidney stone or tumor develop, or if the kidney experiences a
trauma, it would be more serious than it would in an individual
who had two functioning kidneys.
Lankenau Medical Center
Schedule an appointment with a Lankenau specialist:
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.