There are many advantages of receiving an organ from a living donor:
- There is a greater likelihood of long-term success with your new organ.
- Living donation can reduce your time on dialysis. It might even mean you can get a kidney before you need to start dialysis.
- It can help you avoid years of waiting for a deceased donor organ.
Educate yourself about donation
First, find out as much as you can about living donation. This will give you a better understanding of donation. It will also help you answer any questions raised by others. Ask someone at the Transplant Center at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview for donor education materials. These materials include information about:
- the donor evaluation process
- donor eligibility criteria
- the donor surgery and the potential risks
- the benefits of donation
- potential donor grants
- long-term medical and psychological outcomes for donors (based on our long-term studies)
- how to contact the Transplant Center if someone is interested in donation
We were one of the first transplant programs in the country to perform living donor transplants, starting in 1963. We have tried to maintain contact with donors over the years to keep track of how they are doing. Our studies have shown that kidney donors do well after donation and continue to have an excellent quality of life, similar to (or even better) than people who have not donated.
In addition to learning about donation from us, we also encourage you and any potential donors to speak to others who have already gone through donor surgery. We have a list of such individuals willing to speak to potential donors. We also encourage you to visit other nationally known Web sites to get information about living donation. Here are just a few: www.kidney.org, www.UNOS.org, www.livingdonorsonline.org.
We have a separate donor team dedicated to the care of living donors to ensure there is no conflict of interest. We want to make sure that we keep in mind the best interest of the donor, not just the recipient. Our donor team focuses on the safety and well-being of the donor before, during, and after surgery. Our team includes a clinical social worker who also serves as an advocate for donors.
Who can become a living donor?
In the past, donors needed to be close relatives of their recipients. This is no longer the case. Basically any healthy individual with a compatible (same) blood and tissue match may be considered as a potential donor for you. She or he does not need to be related to you in any way. It’s becoming more common that donors are unrelated. They may be spouses, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, or someone who does not even know the recipient. Complete strangers sometimes volunteer to help someone they hear about in need of an organ. Other people come forward to anonymously donate a kidney to anyone on the waiting list, because they know there is a severe organ shortage.
We have also expanded new donor options that may be appropriate for your unique situation. One option is our Paired Donor Exchange Program. Through this program, a computer database cross-matches donors and recipients. For instance, you may know someone who wants to donate a kidney to you, but he or she is not a match. Your donor could possibly donate a kidney to another recipient, if that person also has a donor who is not a match, but who is a match for you. The two pairs swap kidneys. You can talk about this option with your Transplant Center team.
Bringing up the topic of donation
Maybe people know that you are being evaluated for a transplant, but they haven’t offered to donate. They may not even be aware they can donate. Or maybe they just need information on how to proceed if they want to donate. An excellent place to start is by providing them with initial information, like the phone number for the Transplant Center (612-625-7010 or 1-800-328-5465, ext. 581). You can also obtain donor brochures from the Transplant Center that you can give to people who might be interested in donating. Let them know that they can contact the Transplant Center to get general donor information if they are interested. This contact does not commit them to donation and remains confidential. We do not notify recipients of donor volunteer contacts (unless, the donor asks us to).
Each individual has a unique family history and circumstance that may affect the decision to donate. You also need to consider a person’s cultural or religious beliefs.
It may be more difficult for some people than others to raise the topic of donation. When you ask someone about donation, it provides an opportunity for a personal discussion. It helps the donor learn firsthand about your condition and need for a kidney. You may want to set up a group or individual meeting(s) to talk about donation, depending on your situation. For those who live far away, you, a family member or a friend may need to call, write or email others to discuss your situation and available treatment options.
We also encourage you to bring someone close to you to attend your transplant evaluation appointment and class. This person can share information with potential donors. We understand that in some instances, past family issues may resurface when donation (or any serious topic) is initiated. So the assistance of another person in approaching potential donors may be more comfortable.
What you might say during the discussion
Tell individuals that the transplant team asked you to meet with them to discuss living donation as an option. Share your feelings. This gives family members the opportunity to share their own thoughts in return. However, be careful that no one is placing any emotional or psychological pressure on anyone else to donate. Often it is not you (the recipient) but other family members who may be pressuring someone to donate. If someone is feeling pressure to donate, we rule them out as a donor.
In addition to giving potential donors medical information about donation, let them know that there should be no medical costs to them. The evaluation, surgery, and donor follow-up appointments are covered by the recipient’s health insurance. Donors may also be eligible for help with non-medical donor expenses, such as travel and lodging. There are donor grants available for this purpose. This information is on our Living Donor Kidney Program Web pages. It is also available from the clinical donor social worker. (Note: It is illegal for any donor to financially gain from donation. However, financial assistance can be provided so that it doesn’t cost the donor anything to donate.)
There are some factors that will automatically rule out an individual from becoming your donor. These include:
- high blood pressure if the person is under age 50
- heart or lung disease
- recent history of cancer
- hepatitis B or C, or HIV
- inpatient treatment for mental health or chemical dependency in the past six months
- the inability to give informed consent to donate
- lack of a donor caregiver or plan for post-operative care following surgery
Don’t expect potential donors to respond right away after you discuss donation with them. Some people make their decision immediately. Others need time to consider the many issues involved with donation and their own personal situation. Provide them with the time, information, support, and space they may need. It is important for them to comfortably discuss it with their own immediate family, employer, or others involved in their daily lives.
Advise them to contact our Transplant Center to discuss their questions or concerns. Let them know that they can have a detailed and confidential conversation or meeting with our staff. We will never give information related to a donor discussion to recipients or others. Once a person decides to start the donation process, our transplant team will assess his or her medical and psychosocial suitability. We will be there to assist that person through each step of the process.
Public pleas for living donors: Seeking donors outside your family and social network
Many individuals have success in finding a donor when they make their need publicly known. Some patients awaiting transplant may not be able to find a donor match among their family and friends. Or, they may have a high level of antibodies that makes finding a match extra hard. In such cases, a recipient, or his or her family member, may consider going to the general public to seek a donor. Some people have shared their situation and need for a transplant in local newspapers, community or church bulletins, on television, or on the Internet in search of a donor. People have used blogs, Facebook or other websites to post their requests. These types of public pleas are becoming more common, but require great consideration.
If you plan to make a public request, we recommend that you first let the Transplant Center staff know about your search. We can give you information that can help you with the process.
1. First, discuss your idea of creating a public notice with your transplant coordinator before you place such notices. We can help you make sure that any potential donors who respond to your plea are appropriately cared for. For example, you will want to direct them to contact us directly for appropriate screening and confidentiality. Also, specific information is necessary when asking for donors, such as what blood type you need and other health requirements. It saves time for everyone involved when this type of information is known up front.
We want to plan for the possibility that we may receive many calls from volunteers who may want to donate. This is another reason to notify your coordinator if you plan to make a public plea. If a large volume of calls is expected, then the Transplant Center may set up a special process to assist with these calls.
2. You may want to share basic information about yourself (or about the recipient if you are someone helping with the search). How much information you want to share is a personal preference. It depends on your comfort level. You may want to discuss ideas with your coordinator or social worker.
3. When publicizing that you are looking for a donor, the notice should include the blood type that you need and any medical issues that might prevent a person from donating. For instance, individuals cannot be considered as donors if they have medical problems such as diabetes, recent history of cancer or chronic infections.
4. You may want to include resources that potential donors can check to get more information about donation. This might include the donor pages on our Web site or other national sites. This allows people to independently explore information, rather than just hear it from you or our Transplant Center staff.
5. It’s important know and tell potential donors that the donor team will not be able to inform recipients of who called, or release any information about them to the recipient (even when it’s a close relative.) We respect donor confidentiality at all times. It is up to the prospective donor to share information with the recipient if he or she wishes to do so.
People who are interested in learning more about donation should contact: 612-625-7010 or 800-328-5465. A coordinator will provide them with detailed information and have a confidential and personal discussion with them. Frequently, this information assists a person in deciding whether donation is right for him or her. There is no pressure or obligation to proceed and their information always remains confidential. If a caller remains interested, the coordinator will tell him or her how to proceed. The coordinator will also provide other donor resources that may help the potential donor with their decision. We are available to guide them throughout the process.
Contact the Transplant Program
If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more about living donation, please call the Transplant Center Living Donor Information Line at:
612-625-7010 or 1-800-328-5465, ext. 581