If you have a loved one or acquaintance who needs a kidney, you might be wondering why there’s such an emphasis on finding a live donor. Aside from the inescapable reality that there simply aren’t enough deceased-donor organs available (more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for one), live donation offers very real advantages. Here are just five big ones:
1-The wait is much shorter. Kidney patients in the United States may spend 5 to 10 years on the wait list. About 16 patients die every day because they haven’t received the life-saving organ in time. Having a live donor translates to a wait of months instead of years.
2-Because the live donation/transplant can be scheduled—as opposed to waiting for “the call” that a potential kidney match has become available—it can be done under optimal conditions: at the donor’s convenience but also when the patient is at his or her strongest. If one or the other is even mildly sick when the transplant is scheduled, it can be postponed for a few weeks till conditions are just right.
3-The two surgeries are typically done at the same time and often on the same corridor. The shorter time that the kidney is removed from the blood supply—a matter of minutes in such a case—the sooner it will “wake up” and start to function in the recipient’s body.
4-Because the kidney starts to work immediately, the patient often begins to “pink up” and feel better the same day. With a deceased-donor kidney, there’s usually a delay of a few weeks, during which the patient would generally need to be on dialysis.
5-For all of these reasons and more, a live-donor kidney typically lasts significantly longer than one from a deceased-donor: an average of 15 to 20 years versus 10 to 15 with a deceased donor. Those are just averages, though. I know of many recipients of live kidneys who have had theirs for more than 30 years—the record is about 50 years! Deceased-donor kidneys only rarely last more than 30 years.
If you think the benefits of live donation are only for the recipient, watch for my upcoming post on the benefits of live donation for the donor!