Living Donor Transplants
Learn more about how thousands of lives are saved each year thanks to the generosity of living donors.
More than 6,500 living donor transplants were performed in the U.S. in 2021, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Living donation happens when a living person donates an organ or part of an organ for transplant.
Thousands of lives are saved each year thanks to the unselfish generosity of living donation, which is an increasingly viable option for patients awaiting transplantation.
Living donation offers advantages, such as a shorter wait time and faster recovery period for the recipient. Also, transplants from family members that are strong genetic matches to the transplant recipient decrease the risk of rejection.
The organ most commonly given by a living donor is the kidney. Parts of the lung, liver, pancreas, and in rare instances the intestine, can also be supplied by living donors.
Types of living donation
In a directed donation, the donor specifically names the person to receive the transplanted organ. This is the most common type of living donor transplant. In a directed donation, the donor can be a biological relative, a friend, or a stranger who learns about the transplant candidate’s need. Directed donation can also occur in deceased donation if the donor’s family wishes to identify an individual to receive the donor’s organ.
A non-directed donation involves a living donor who is not related to or known by the recipient, who decides to donate an organ altruistically. This is also sometimes referred to as anonymous donation. Some living donors eventually meet their transplant recipient, but only if both parties agree, and if allowed by the transplant center’s policy.
Also called paired kidney exchange, paired donation involves two pairs of living kidney donors and transplant candidates who do no not have matching blood types. The two candidates “trade” donors so that each candidate receives a kidney from a donor with a compatible blood type.
Paired Donation Chains
Donation chains enable non-directed or altruistic donors to give kidneys to anyone who’s a good match. This donation process also allows a willing donor with an incompatible intended recipient to donate to another person waiting for a transplant. The incompatible donor of this recipient then gives to someone else waiting for a transplant, and the chain continues as a far as possible.
Hospitals and transplant centers may connect several non-matching pairs of patients and donors and then distribute the available kidneys so that all the recipients end up with their best matched organ, regardless of their relationship with the donor. Gift of Life works with transplant centers locally and nationally to coordinate and transport these paired donation organs.