A person holds out a wrapped gift with a kidney inside.

Living Donor Program

Six out of every 10 people with lupus have kidney problems like lupus nephritis.1 In this case, lupus attacks the kidneys until they stop working.1 Many people with lupus nephritis need a kidney transplant.1 Donor kidneys come from people who have recently passed away or from living donors. Four of every 10 donor kidneys come from living donors.2

A kidney donor must be a blood and tissue match to the recipient. If not, the recipient’s body will not accept the new kidney. Most donors say they do not regret their decision to donate a kidney to someone in need.

Kidney function

Most people have 2 kidneys which share the job of keeping us healthy. Kidneys filter waste from our food and drink.3 Lupus nephritis damages both kidneys so neither works well.1 Waste products then build up and make us swollen and sick.3

What happens if the kidneys fail?

People with kidney failure need dialysis or a transplant. Dialysis uses a machine to filter waste from the blood.1Dialysis is needed 3 or more times a week and can last several hours each time.1 Kidney transplants require major surgery, but the new kidney may work for about 20 years.4 Some people wait for a donor kidney for years.1

Kidney donation and transplant

Donor kidneys come from people who have recently passed away.4 Their organs are harvested and given to people in need. Donor kidneys also come from living donors which are often friends or family members of the recipient.4 Kidneys from the deceased take time to start working so short-term dialysis may be needed.4 Kidneys from living donors work immediately.4

Who can be a living donor?

A donor’s blood and tissue must match the recipient’s blood and tissue.4 A blood test called a crossmatch mixes the blood of donor and recipient. If the recipient’s blood cells attack the donor’s cells, the transplant will fail.4 These tests can be given by any of the 200 transplant centers in the United States.1

How blood impacts donation

Donors and recipients must have matching blood types. There are 4 possible blood types which are A, B, AB, and O.4 Donors can give kidneys in the following ways:4

  • Donors with A blood – can donate to recipients with A or AB blood types.
  • Donors with B blood – can donate to recipients with B or AB blood types.
  • Donors with AB blood – can donate to recipients with AB blood types.
  • Donors with O blood – can donate to recipients with any blood type.

Other requirements of living donors

Some criteria for living donors are listed below:2,4-5

  • Healthy age range – donors are between ages 18 and 60.
  • Free of kidney disease – donors cannot give a kidney that is damaged.
  • Free of major health problems – this includes heart disease, high blood pressure, HIV, hepatitis, and diabetes. Being obese also may exclude a donor.
  • Non-smoker – some programs exclude smokers.
  • Living donors get a complete medical and mental exam to make sure they are healthy enough to donate.

Considerations for donors

Giving a kidney can save a life. Many things must be considered before donating. Some considerations include:2,4

  • Life with 1 kidney – Donors can lead normal lives. Some report high blood pressure. Others report no long-term problems. More research needs to be done studying the long-term problems of living donors.
  • Restrictions – Donors may need to change their lifestyle. They are advised to stop contact sports like boxing or football. Pregnancy may be complicated with 1 kidney. The military, police, and fire department may not accept people with 1 kidney.
  • Problems from surgery – A transplant is major surgery. Problems may arise from the surgery.
  • Insurance issues – Some donors have trouble getting life insurance after donating. Others pay more for health insurance.
  • Emotional stress – Donors may feel regret, depression, or anxiety after donating.

Being a kidney donor

Donors work with a transplant team to first see if they are a match. The hospital or transplant team will provide an advocate. An advocate answers any questions and speaks in the donor’s best interest.4 Donors get a medical and mental exam making sure they are healthy. If the recipient agrees to receive the donor's kidney, surgery follows.

Paired exchange

This occurs when 2 recipients swap donors.4 For example, Mary needs a kidney. Her brother, Dave, is not a match. Jane also needs a kidney, and her sister Karen is not a match. The paired exchange would take place if Karen matched and donated a kidney to Mary while Dave matched and donated a kidney to Jane.

Non-directed donation

It is possible to donate an organ to a stranger. The donor’s organ would be given to someone waiting on the transplant list. Non-directed donations often make a chain-reaction of transplants possible.6 Anywhere from 2 to 30 transplants can be made possible by one initial donation.6 Transplant centers can provide more information on non-directed donations.

Is it worth it?

Most donors do not regret donating an organ.4 Eighty to 97 percent say they would do it again.4 Donating a kidney can save a life, and the National Kidney Foundation has a lot of information for potential donors. The nearest transplant center may also have advocates available to help.

Financial resources

The National Living Donor Assistance Program may cover some costs related to donation. It may also be able to provide life insurance to those who meet requirements. The American Society of Transplantation worksheet can help estimate the cost of a donation. Some states also give tax breaks for donors.

Emotional resources

Talking to a spiritual advisor or counselor may help. The National Kidney Foundation has a group called NKFPeers which allows potential donors to talk with people who have already donated. Hearing the experiences of others can provide comfort and helpful information.

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