Donating a Kidney

Deciding to become a living kidney donor is a big decision. Some people don't hesitate about saying yes. Others weigh the decision carefully. Many say no. So how do you know if kidney donation is right for you? 

Let's face it: the prospect of surgery and voluntarily giving away a perfectly good-working organ has most people thinking twice (if not more) about it. There's a lot to consider: taking time off work for testing, surgery, and recovery, costs associated with being off work, not to mention wondering if you'll be able to live a long, healthy, one-kidney life.

Then there's the flip side to consider: the miracle of giving someone the gift of life. 

The Donation Process

Finding out if you're a match  is the first step in becoming a donor. It's a big one—results can mean donating to someone you know or donation options that could end the wait for more than one person. Then there's testing to see if you're healthy enough to donate. And the big finish—surgery, recovery, and life after donation.

The process can take months. But based on donors' stories,  it's one that's worth it. 

Take time to learn about the process. This is a good place to start. We're people who've been where you are and made the decision to share a spare. But you need to make the decision that's right for you. 

Ask questions—lots of them—of people who've been through it. But remember, kidney transplant specialists—coordinators, nurses, nephrologists, surgeons, social workers—should be your final source for information based on your health and your situation. Information here isn't meant to replace their expertise. 

Why People Need Kidney Transplants

Kidneys are hard-working organs. Our bodies count on them to:

  • Filter blood to remove wastes, which we see as pee
  • Return water and chemicals back to the body 
  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure and spur production of red blood cells 
 This is a list of medications one person took while waiting for a kidney transplant. Nine of them were kidney-related.

This is a list of medications one person took while waiting for a kidney transplant. Nine of them were kidney-related.

Most people are born with two kidneys. But if you're born with only one, (more common than you'd think—1 in 750 people) lose one to an accident or disease, or become a donor, a single kidney grows slightly and does the job of two. If you're healthy, you can live a normal life with one kidney.

Chronic Kidney Disease

There are diseases and conditions that can damage kidneys and cause chronic kidney disease. The most common causes of kidney disease are:  

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Polycystic kidney disease
 People on home dialysis have to keep a month's supply of dialysis solution in their home. That means storing up to 30 boxes.  These boxes lined the hallway between bedrooms.

People on home dialysis have to keep a month's supply of dialysis solution in their home. That means storing up to 30 boxes.  These boxes lined the hallway between bedrooms.

Chronic kidney disease isn't curable. Damage to the kidney happens slowly, usually over years, and there usually aren't signs or symptoms in the early stages. As kidneys become more damaged, life-threatening levels of fluids build up in the body. 

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease, is when kidneys become so damaged that they can't do the work the body needs them to do. Someone with kidney failure needs dialysis or a kidney transplant. With more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for a transplant, dialysis is usually the only option.

And it's not a great one. Quality of life takes a big hit when you're on dialysis. It requires being connected to a machine three times a week for four hours at a time at a dialysis center, or daily at home for shorter amounts of time, or overnight while sleeping. It makes working a regular schedule difficult. No surprise, people on dialysis have twice the rate of depression than the general population.