Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died. But some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is alive. Nearly 6,000 living donations take place each year. That's about 4 out of every 10 donations.
Most living donations happen among family members or between close friends. Some people become altruistic living donors by choosing to donate to someone they don’t know.
Living donors potentially can donate:
Some of the tissues donated by living donors are:
A healthy body can easily replace some tissues such as blood or bone marrow. Both blood and bone marrow can even be donated more than once since they are regenerated and replaced by the body after donation.
Potential living donors are evaluated by the transplant center where they intend to make the donation to determine whether they are suitable to be a donor.
The evaluation is performed to make sure that no adverse physical, psychological, or emotional outcome will occur—before, during, or following the donation.
Generally, living donors should be physically fit, in good health, between the ages of 18 and 60, and should not have (or have had) diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart disease.
The benefit of saving another by becoming a living donor must be weighed carefully against the risks that come with any major surgical procedure, as well as financial considerations. A healthy donor faces the risk of an unnecessary major surgical procedure and recovery.
You can find out more information about living kidney donation from the National Kidney Foundation or from Informate.org a site in both Spanish and English that discusses financial issues and benefits and risks.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a study to collect information on the outcomes of living donors over time. At present, follow-up reviews of living donors by some transplant centers show that living donors, on average, have done very well over the long term.
However, there is some question about the effects of stress on the remaining organ. There could be subtle medical problems that do not develop until decades after the living donation. The effects are not completely known at this time. To better understand the safety of all living donors, it is critical that the long-term effects of living donation are studied further.
The decision to be a living donor is very personal one. The potential donor must consider the possibility of adverse health effects after donation—as well as the potential to save the life of the recipient, who may be a loved one.
Because we don't know what the short-term and long-term effects to the donor will be, the Federal government does not actively encourage anyone to be a living donor.
However, the Federal government does recognize the wonderful benefit that this gift of life provides to the patient awaiting a transplant and has several ongoing programs to study, support, and protect the living donors who do choose to provide this gift.
The decision to say yes both to organ donation after death and/or as a living donor is the focus of several ongoing and completed research projects conducted across the nation, many of which are supported by the Division of Transplantation, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
You can find more information about living donation at the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) website on their Living Donation page and at the National Kidney Foundation website on their Living Donation page .
UNOS is the Federal contractor that manages the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). UNOS also has a toll free number for any questions you may have about living donation, transplant centers, or the transplant process. The number is 1.888.TXINFO1 (894.6361).