Types of Kidney Donors

People waiting for a kidney transplant can receive a kidney through deceased donors or living donors. 

Deceased Donors

Kidneys from deceased donors go to people on the national organ transplant waiting list. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is a private, non-profit organization that manages waiting lists of people in the United States who need different types of organ transplants. (You can register to become an organ, eye and tissue donor when you get or renew your driver's license or at Donate Life America.)

Living Donors

A living donor is someone who's healthy and chooses to donate a kidney to a person who needs a kidney transplant. Living donors who donate to a relative or someone they know are called directed donors. Non-directed donors (also called altruistic or Good Samaritan donors) donate to someone they don't know.

Barbara and Suzanne talk about what went into their decision to become kidney donors. 

Who can be a living kidney donor?

Age requirements to be a living kidney donor can vary by transplant center. Ages can range from 18 – 70 years old. 

No surprise, you have to be in good physical and mental health to donate a kidney. When it comes to transplant surgery, the donor's long-term health is just as important as the recipient's. You can't donate if you have a medical condition that would increase your risk for health problems if you had only one kidney. 

Transplant centers set their criteria for conditions that prevent you from donating. You may have a health condition that one center says is acceptable and another one doesn't. Conditions that typically will rule you out as a donor include:

  • Cancer (can depend on type)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hepatitis
  • High blood pressure 
  • Kidney disease

Benefits of living donation

Anyone tethered to dialysis and waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant is grateful for a matching kidney, whether it's from a deceased or living donor. But there are benefits to a transplant with a kidney from a living donor:

  • If the kidney is from a relative, it's usually a better genetic match, which reduces the risk of rejection
  • Living donor kidneys usually start working right away, and last longer than a deceased donor kidney—typically 15–20 years or more versus 8–10 
  • A living kidney donation can shorten a recipient's wait and time on dialysis, while also shortening the waiting list
  • Surgery can be scheduled when it's convenient for the donor and when the recipient is healthiest