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What is a living-donor organ transplant—and should you consider it?

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Over 100,000 people wait every day for an organ transplant. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list. Since there aren’t enough organs from deceased donors to meet the need of people who need transplants, another option is to receive an organ from a living donor.

Here are some interesting facts about living-donor organ transplants so you can decide if becoming a living donor is right for you.

How do living-donor organ transplants benefit the recipient?

Patients who find a suitable living donor typically do not have to wait as long for an organ as they would if placed on the national transplant list. Transplanted organs from living donors also usually last longer than those from deceased donors. Another benefit is that when people can find a suitable living donor, it is usually a better genetic match, which lowers the risk of rejection.

How do living-donor organ transplants benefit the donor?

Often a person will donate an organ to a family member or close friend, if they are a good genetic match. This is very meaningful to the person making the donation because it allows them to play a major part in extending and/or improving the quality of their loved one’s life.

If you donate an organ, how can you continue to live?

Donating an organ has not been shown to shorten the life expectancy of the donor, according to the American Transplant Foundation. People who donate a kidney can still function with their one working kidney. This is the most common type of living organ donation. Living donors can also donate a portion of their liver. When they do, the remaining part of the liver regenerates and continues to perform its regular functions.

Can you only donate an organ directly to someone you know?

The most common type of living organ donation is one in which a person directs the organ they’re donating to a specific person. This is usually a close relative, since a genetic match is needed for the transplant to be a success. People can also donate to someone they’re not biologically related to if they are a match. This may be someone they have a connection to or they can choose to donate to someone they don’t know.

What if you want to donate an organ to someone but aren’t a match?

If you are willing to donate an organ but aren’t a good match, a paired organ donation may be set up. When this happens, two or more donors and recipients are paired up so each gets an organ that is compatible, even though you don’t donate directly to your loved one. It’s like a chain of donations. You donate your organ to a person you don’t know. Someone donates an organ on behalf of that person to your loved one. In some cases, there may be more than two sets of donors and recipients in the chain.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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