What are the kidneys?

The kidneys are a pair of bean shaped organs, located on either side of the spine, just beneath the ribs. They are about the size of a fist. 

They function as filters for your body to keep your blood clean and remove waste and extra water. The kidneys help maintain the environment within the body, allowing all the other organs to function properly. 

The need for kidney transplants

When kidneys fail, treatment options include hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and kidney transplant. A kidney transplant is a surgery that places a new healthy kidney into the body of the person with kidney disease. This new kidney is from a living or deceased donor. 

What is a living kidney donation? Is that the same as an altruistic kidney donation?

For those living with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), a living kidney donor is the best option to improve the recipient’s quality of life. A living kidney donation occurs when an individual chooses to donate one of their two kidneys to a person living with ESRD. This may be a spouse, sibling, child, parent, friend, co-worker, or a stranger.

People often come forward for a stranger after learning of the need on the news, through social media, or even a billboard. Altruistic kidney donation, also known as non-directed or good Samaritan, is a donation to someone unknown to the donor. 

Receiving a living kidney transplant can correct complications of kidney failure that are not fully reversed by dialysis. It also offers the best chance of rehabilitation, better quality of life, and improved patient survival, particularly for those with kidney failure caused by diabetes.

Advantages of living kidney donation 

There are several benefits to a living kidney donation. 

  • Reduced wait time. There is less wait time for the recipient when a living donor comes forward. Without a living kidney donor, the average wait for a kidney from the deceased donor waiting list in New England is five to seven years.
  • Higher success rate. The success rate is higher for those receiving a living donor kidney than those receiving a deceased donor kidney. The expected lifespan of a living donor kidney is 12 to 14 years, versus seven to eight years for a deceased donor kidney. 
  • Better results. Living kidney donation minimizes injury to the kidney, so the kidney will function sooner after surgery, reducing the risk of delayed function to the recipient.
  • Happy donors. Donors report personal growth, interpersonal and spiritual benefits from donation.

Who can be a living kidney donor?

A complete evaluation will be conducted to ensure that a donor is healthy enough for donation. To be a living kidney donor you must be:

  • at least 18 years old 
  • in excellent physical health
  • free from kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, obesity, malignancy, and chronic pain or infection  
  • free from pressure or coercion
  • able to demonstrate stable psychological health

What happens if I want to donate but my loved one is not compatible?

The transplant team at Rhode Island Hospital is committed to finding a kidney for your recipient. A donor and recipient who are not a match with each other are known as an “incompatible pair.”  Kidney Paired Donation allows Rhode Island Hospital to match the donor and recipient pair with another donor and recipient pair to perform a “swap,” allowing each recipient to receive a living donor kidney transplant. Both are removed from the wait list, thus decreasing the time other recipients are waiting.

Will donating a kidney impact my health?

After a comprehensive medical and psychosocial evaluation, the living donor team determines if an individual is healthy enough to donate a kidney, at minimal personal risk. It is important that the living donor follow the recovery guidelines and maintain overall good health, avoiding illness or injury to the remaining kidney. Donating a kidney should not affect one’s activities or life expectancy. 

If you would like more information about the Transplant Center at Rhode Island Hospital or would like to be screened as a living kidney donor, please visit our website.

Lori Cragan, Sarah Gibb, and Lynne McLeod

Lori Cragan, LICSW, is the clinical social worker for the living donor program, Sarah Gibb, RN, is the clinical transplant coordinator, and Lynne McLeod is the transplant manager, for the Transplant Center at Rhode Island Hospital.