Kidney Donation: How Are Kidneys Donated?

Illustration of a kidney
MediaForMedical/UIG / Getty Images

A kidney transplant is surgery that removes your diseased or damaged kidney and replaces it with a healthy donor kidney. It is the treatment of choice for patients with kidney failure because it extends life for many years longer than dialysis, a treatment in which a machine filters waste products out of the kidneys.

There is a wide gap between the number of people on the kidney transplant waiting lists and the number of kidneys available.

According to data accessed in October 2009 from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), 81,682 people were on kidney waiting lists across the United States. In 2008, only 16,519 kidney transplants were performed. 10,551 of these donated kidneys were from deceased donors, and 6,968 were from living donors. A total of 14,746 adults and 773 children received transplants.

Kidney Donor Types

There are two basic types of kidney donors.

  • Deceased donor transplants. This type of transplant comes from a person who just died. The kidney must be transplanted within several hours of death. Deceased donors are often people who die suddenly from accidents, and their family members give consent to organ donation. The ideal deceased donor will have no trauma to the abdominal area.
  • Living donor transplant. In this operation, a kidney is removed from a living person using minimally invasive surgery, in a technique known as laparoscopic nephrectomy. While the procedure is much less of an ordeal for the donor than when it was done through open surgery, it certainly is not without risks.

    The kidney transplant community is struggling with novel strategies to expand the number of donors available. What is known as expanded criteria donors means using an organ traditionally considered less than ideal for transplant.

    Kidney donation after cardiac death is also a growing source of kidney donors.


    Answering your questions about living donation. National Kidney Foundation. Downloaded Oct. 5, 2009.

    Barry JM, Jordan ML, Conlin MJ. Renal transplantation In Wein, AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap. 40.

    Kidney transplant. National Library of Medicine. Downloaded Oct. 5, 2009.

    Continue Reading