How to Donate an Organ to a Friend or Family Member

What Is Living Related Organ Donation?

organ donation awareness
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For patients who are experiencing organ failure and are in need of a transplant, finding a living related organ donor can be the best way to get a transplant without an extended waiting period. Living related donation is the original type of organ donation, starting with the first kidney transplant in 1954, with a kidney donated by the patient's identical twin.

Living related donation is becoming more popular as patients are waiting longer than ever for a transplant. A patient’s best chance for a transplant, without the extended wait, is to find a donor from their family or a friend.

Kidneys are not the only organ that can be donated by a living donor; liver segments, lung segments and intestine segments can be donated by a relative. This type of donation decreases the wait for a transplant, which is especially important because patients often get sicker as they wait. Shorter waiting times improve the chance of an excellent outcome, as the recipient is healthier and better able to tolerate surgery at the time of transplant.

Who Can Be a Living Organ Donor?

Being a living organ donor isn't as simple as having blood tests to see if you are a match to the potential recipient. You need to be emotionally and physically well in order to successfully donate an organ.

Potential donors should:

  • Be healthy with no major medical problems
  • Be height-weight proportionate
  • Have no history of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Be an adult under the age of 65
  • Have a compatible blood type
  • Have no mental problems that would interfere with decision-making skills

Testing For Living Organ Donation

There is substantial testing required before a person can donate an organ. Psychological testing is performed to ensure that a potential donor is able to understand the decision to donate, the risks of donation and the process of donation. Extensive medical testing is done to protect both the donor and the recipient. For the donor, it is essential that testing shows that they are healthy and that they will not be harmed by the donation. For the recipient, it is necessary to determine that the organ will be a good match and not be rejected, and that the donor does not have any diseases that could be transmitted to the recipient, including hepatitis, HIV or cancer.

Blood will be drawn for several tests. A standard blood typing test will be performed as well as tissue typing, cross-matching and screening for antibodies. These tests are used to see if the donor is compatible with the recipient, or if there is a high likelihood of organ rejection.

Standard x-rays will be done to check for any heart and lung problems. Urine samples will be analyzed for organ function in the case of kidney donors. Female donors will have a complete gynecological exam and potentially a mammogram. Additional organ-specific tests may be ordered as the transplant surgeon deems necessary.

Organ Donation Options When a Relative Doesn't Match

If a relative or spouse who is willing to donate is not a match for donation, a paired donation is an option. A paired donation happens when a person who needs a transplant is not a match to the person who is eligible to donate. The pair is then matched with a similar couple, who also do not match each other.

An example is this: Recipient A and his spouse, Donor A, do not match. Recipient B and his spouse, Donor B, do not match each other. Recipient A receives Donor B’s kidney and Recipient B receives Donor A’s kidney, all on the same day.

If a paired donation is not an option, the next option is the traditional waiting list, where patients wait for an organ from a deceased donor.

The Risks of Living Organ Donation

In addition to the general risks of surgery, donating an organ has additional risks.

The Risks of Being a Kidney Donor

  • High blood pressure​
  • Protein in the urine, which can signal early kidney failure

The Risks of Lung Donation

  • Blood clots, especially in the lungs
  • Difficulty breathing​
  • Collapsed lung​
  • Heart problems including abnormal heart rhythms
  • Infection and inflammation of the lung

The Risks of Liver Donation

  • Blood clots​
  • Small bowel obstructions
  • Bleeding problems

The Costs of Being a Living Related Organ Donor

If you are considering being an organ donor, it is important to know the costs of donation. The medical expenses associated with donating an organ are paid for by the recipient’s insurance, including hospital bills, testing before surgery and all other medical expenses directly related to the donation. This is true of all types of organ donation.

The additional expenses that a living donor experiences, including the loss of wages, child care expenses during recovery, food, lodging and travel costs, are not covered. If the donor has disability insurance, there may be no loss of wages or the loss may be minimized.

For donors who have difficulty with the costs that are not covered by insurance, The National Living Donor Assistance Program can provide help with expenses.

Coping With a Living Related Donation

There are significant emotional issues involved in both donating and receiving an organ, and the ability to cope with those issues is essential for both the donor and the recipient. It is important to have an open and frank discussion about expectations that the donor and recipient may have, along with concerns and problems, prior to the transplant.

Learn more about the issues facing both donors and recipients in Coping After Organ Transplantation before problems develop between family members and friends.


Living Donation. The United Network for Organ Sharing. 2008.

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