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Becoming a Living Kidney Donor: 6 Things to Know About the Process

Mother and daughter hugging
Image courtesy of Getty

Most of us are born with two kidneys. In 2023, more than 6,900 kidney transplants were made possible by living donors – people who chose to offer one of their kidneys to a friend, relative or stranger. UF Health performed 20 of these living kidney transplants in the past year. Nationwide, about 90,000 await a kidney donation.

Here are six things to know about becoming a living kidney donor:

1. As with many other organ donations, potential kidney donors must meet certain criteria. According to the National Kidney Foundation, donors must be over 18 years old and at an ideal weight, with normal blood pressure and no existing diseases. The donor must also undergo a chest X-ray and a psychosocial interview. The kidney must be in perfect health for the procedure to be safe for the donor and the recipient.

2. Kidney transplant surgeries can be scheduled more quickly than many other transplant surgeries because of the donor’s availability. The usual timetable is around two to three months after tests determine the donor is eligible and the recipient’s insurance approves the procedure.

3. Becoming a living donor can drastically cut the recipient’s wait, giving them more time healthy and extending their life span. On average, a recipient gains 20 to 25 years from a living kidney donation, sometimes more. Another benefit is that the recipient no longer needs to undergo dialysis treatment.

4. It takes time to recover after donating a kidney, but not as long as you might think. On average, after a living donor kidney transplant surgery, a donor can return to work in a couple of weeks, as long as they avoid lifting more than 10 pounds and do not drive for at least four weeks. UF Health surgeons offer laparoscopic operations, which reduce recovery time. These procedures are characterized by small keyhole cuts used to view the kidney until a larger incision is made to remove it. Kidney donors then will be on track to return to their regular activities, within reason (bungee jumping is not recommended). Most living kidney donors will feel 100% back to normal about four months after surgery. Drinking plenty of water during this time is important.

5. Two-thirds of donated kidneys come from a deceased donor, and an estimated 12 people die each day because they didn’t get a kidney in time. Although kidney transplants are the most common living donor transplants, fewer than 25,000 people will get the kidney they need by the end of this year.

6. If you plan to donate your kidney to a family member who is genetically similar to you, there is a lower risk of rejection. Kidneys donated from a living donor work almost immediately because the kidney is not outside the body for a long period of time. Kidneys from living donors also reduce the likelihood of the recipient requiring dialysis.

Hear from our UF Health transplant surgeons

We asked one of our living kidney donor transplant surgeons, Georgios Vrakas, MD, MSc, PhD, FRCS, for advice he would give those weighing whether to become a living donor.

What do you believe is the most important thing to know about being a living organ donor, more specifically living kidney donations?

“You must be in perfect health. Perfect health meaning one cannot be obese or be nondiabetic and have controlled blood pressure. These are basic things that UF Health screens patients for. Getting into more detail would be asking some deeper questions and tests (to ensure) that someone’s kidney is not just adequate but perfect, pristine. We cannot harm someone to benefit someone else.”

How many kidney transplants did the kidney transplant team do last year? How many of them were living donor kidney transplants?

“Last year, we did 231 kidney transplants, 20 of these were living kidney donor transplants. Most of the living donors were from relatives or spouses. A few of these donations were from altruistic donors. Someone from within the Gainesville community wanted to donate their kidney to someone who was in desperate need of a kidney, someone who wants to help a fellow Gainesvillian.”

Do you have an interesting story about a living kidney donor?

“Sometimes, people are surprised when their friends who are not close contact them to offer to donate to them. I remember Randy, who allowed us to share his story. He was talking to Liesl at work. She offered her kidney to him, and they ended up being a good match. This really caught Randy by surprise, but he ultimately accepted the kidney from Liesl. That was an amazing story. They are still very, very good friends. They both even named the kidney Lili.”

For people wondering about donating a kidney, what would you tell them?

“Starting the process is very simple and fast. If the potential donor is cleared after the medical history point of view, then we can start the process of looking into more details than just a general screening. Potential donors can change their mind up to the last minute before they go under the anesthesia. If at some point the potential donor wants to take a step back and change their mind, no one is going to hold a grudge against them.”


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Media contact

Peyton Wesner
Communications Manager for UF Health External Communications (352) 273-9620