Living kidney donor need is on the rise

Kidney donation

Organ trafficking or organ trade is a global problem, and one reason it is such a dilemma is that there is a severe shortage of viable organs and organ donors, especially kidney donors. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, for example, more than 80,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney. Each day thirteen of these individuals die.

Donated kidneys can come from either a cadever or living donor, which is a major reason why this organ is highly sought by people who conduct organ trafficking. Potential kidney donors in such cases are approached with promises of big money and little or no health risks.

Aside from the failure to get paid what they are promised, however, the health risks to kidney donors who are approached by traffickers can be considerable if the procedure is not done properly or if the donor is in poor health, which is often the case.

Legitimate kidney donation is another matter. It is not necessary for living kidney donors to be related to the recipient, although in most cases the donors are family members or close friends. The general requirements of living kidney donors are age 18 to 70 years, good general health, and normal kidney anatomy and function. Anyone who has diabetes, certain infectious diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis, some forms of cancer, or who is an intravenous drug user cannot be a kidney donor.


In legitimate kidney donation scenarios, potential kidney donors are carefully screened by health-care professionals. A blood sample is taken and analyzed to ensure there is a match between donor and recipient. If the results are positive, a medical evaluation is done to make sure the donor fulfills the criteria for donation.

Any major surgical procedure is associated with risks (e.g., bleeding, infection, reaction to medications), and kidney donation is no exception. However, if the donor has two completely healthy kidneys and is otherwise healthy as well, the risks are virtually nil. Kidney donors typically do not experience any lifestyle restrictions or problems after they recover fully from the surgery.

Two types of surgery for kidney donation are used. The minimally invasive procedure is called a laparoscopic nephrectomy, in which the kidney is removed through a very small incision in the abdomen. Donors can usually leave the hospital one or two days after surgery and resume work within two to three weeks. The traditional method is done through an incision across the flank on one side of the back. This procedure requires donors to stay in the hospital for four to five days and allows them to return to work in three to six weeks. Studies show that kidney donation does not change life expectancy of the donor.

Six to nine months after surgery, kidney donors should be examined by a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and undergo blood and urine tests to ensure the remaining kidney is functioning properly. This evaluation does not require a hospital stay.

Individuals interested in learning more about kidney donation can contact the National Kidney Foundation Living Donor Council. The Foundation has also advocated for legislation to ensure that kidney donors do not suffer financial harm because of their donation. The “Living Organ Donor Tax Credit Act of 2009” would provide a federal tax credit of up to $5,000 for unreimbursed expenses related to the donation, including lost wages, for both living organ and bone marrow donors.

SOURCES: National Kidney Foundation
United Network for Organ Sharing