What Is A Kidney Transplant?
A kidney transplant is a surgery that is performed when an individual has little to no kidney function (End-Stage Renal Failure). A healthy kidney is donated to the recipient in order to restore renal function.
While a transplant is not a cure, it is life-saving. The average life-span of a transplanted kidney (from a living donor) is 12-15 years.
Outside of transplantation, the only other treatment option for ESRD patients is dialysis every other day (12-24 hours per week). Sadly the average life expectancy on dialysis is only 5 years.
Who Can Donate A Kidney?
Any adult with healthy kidney function can donate. Certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, recent cancer, and diabetes, can disqualify a potential donor.
While donating a kidney is life-saving and the most selfless thing a person can do, this is still a major decision. This should be given ample thought and discussed with your family and friends.
Aside from a donor’s health, the most decisive element in establishing a match with a recipient is blood type and HLA tissue typing (antibodies). Refer to the diagram below to see who you can donate to.
Is Kidney Donation Dangerous?
All surgeries come with complication risks, such as fever, infection, and bleeding. Kidney donation is no different. However, advancements in medicine and surgical techniques have made complications less common.
Please refer to the infographic below to see recent complications statistics. This will also compare kidney donation surgery to colonoscopy, a common non-surgical procedure (click to enlarge).
Positives & Negatives Of Donating A Kidney
Pros (Click To View More Info)
Save A Life
No better reason than this.
Without a transplant, an ESRD patient can pass away within 2-6 weeks. Otherwise, dialysis is required, which is debilitating, disabling, and causes sometimes fatal side effects. For more insight on the life of a dialysis patient,
No Insurance Needed/Affected
When a recipient receives a kidney from a living donor, the recipient’s insurance covers all testing, surgery and hospital costs, and immediate aftercare.
Under the current federal laws that oversee health care policy, an insurer cannot punish, deny, or raise prices on patients who donate.
Top Of The List, If Ever Needed
While this might seem like a random reason to undergo surgery to save someone’s life, it is nevertheless true. If a donor ever needs a transplant later in life, they are moved to the very top of the list.
This applies to any transplant and not just a kidney (heart, lungs, intestine, liver, etc.). For example, if a kidney donor one day needs a new liver then they are shuttled to the top of the list.
Best Friend For Life
Many Americans are willing to donate their organs through the nationwide Organ Donor program, which alerts a hospital of your wishes if you are declared brain dead. This is usually done while waiting in line at the DMV.
When a deceased donor’s wishes are carried out, the donor’s family and the recipient are rarely ever given each other’s information (after about a year some hospitals might be willing to set up for mutually-agreed contact).
Many donors who didn’t previously know their recipient beforehand often say that knowing the person receiving their gift is most important to them.
No Change In Quality Of Life
For ESRD patients, life on dialysis is very different than they’re used to and very difficult to deal with on a daily basis. 12-24 hours of grueling dialysis a week is hardly where it ends, as diet, hospitalizations, and quality of life are all affected. In fact, the diet is so strict that patients go years without things like tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, chocolate, pizza, and so, so much more (eating these can lead to heart attack and stroke).
Once a patient receives a donated kidney, those days are usually over. The same is true for the donor as well. Donors can continue eating their preferred diet and will have no physical limitations in life.
Cons (Click To View More Info)
No Money, Don't Even Ask
Buying or selling an organ is a felony in most countries worldwide, including the United States. Even just asking for compensation could result in the recipient being suspended from their transplant hospital or even expelled. This could literally cost someone their life, so please don’t even ask.
There are a few different Kidney foundations that can help donors with travel costs, lodging, food, and lost wages. However, every foundation is different and funds are always limited.
It's Still Surgery
Despite the positive effect donating a kidney can have, one must always remember that this is surgery.
For a donor, the surgery is done mostly laparoscopically, with 4 separate 0.5-1 cm long incisions and 1 larger incision near the pelvis (typically a few inches long). This has greatly reduced complications, pain, and scarring. However, all surgery will always come with risks.
Please keep those in mind if you ever contemplate becoming a donor.
Testing Is Different For Everyone
No 2 people are the same and that includes their health history. Whether a person is donating a kidney or simply getting an annual physical, every patient is tested differently.
On average, the donor is tested more thoroughly than the recipient. A patient with ESRD must jump through (sometimes unbelievable) hoops just to receive a transplant referral, let alone placement on the waitlist. However, once a patient is approved for surgery they will undergo minimal testing until a donor is found. A recipient must go through similar testing in a much shorter timespan. This is done to ensure that a recipient’s quality of life isn’t ruined by donating (comparatively, a dialysis patient is already sick and hospitals don’t want to release 2 sick patients).
Testing includes X-Ray, CT Scan, Blood Tests, and other tests that vary with each patient and each transplant hospital. It can be as simple as 1-2 days of testing or it can take place over a number of months.
Slight Chance Of Kidney Disease Later In Life
Kidney Disease is quite rare among donors later in life, but it is still possible.
While many studies have been performed to understand the effects of kidney donation years and decades after surgery, some researchers have had trouble keeping in contact with donors after such long periods of time. Current studies show that any form of kidney disease (especially kidney failure) is exceedingly rare, but any family history should be reported in your health history.