5 (Big) Benefits of Live Donation–for the Donor

In my post last week, I explained some of the enormous benefits of a live vs. deceased-donor kidney for the recipient, but did you know that there are real benefits to the donor, too?

For family members or couples, they are nothing short of dramatic:

1-To see a loved one who’s been pale, weak, and often listless for many months or years gradually become their old self again is pretty powerful. And a partner who wasn’t interested in intimacy during the period when he or she was on dialysis may now discover a new bond.

2- A spouse or parent whose ability to work was limited for a long period may soon resume a full-time schedule–or even launch a new career–to substantially improve the family’s finances.

3-Couples that have been uncomfortable for a long time about socializing—whether because of specific obstacles or simply due to the patient’s lack of energy or interest—will soon be able to enjoy evenings out with friends or family.

4- If the donor has been the caregiver, the reduced stress and no doubt improved sleep can have considerable benefits in mood, overall outlook, and even job satisfaction.

For family members or anyone who donates a kidney—even to a stranger–the benefits are universal:

5- The feeling of personal gratification is indescribable. Knowing that you’ve helped give someone—anyone—a chance at a healthy, productive life—is an extraordinary feeling. Donors in studies report a boost in self-esteem, and 9 out of 10 say they would do it again. Through donor-support groups I’m active in on Facebook, I’ve been struck by how life changing the experience has felt for nearly all of us, including the few who have later had complications or whose recipient didn’t fare well for as long as expected.

A fascinating journal article inspired this post. The researchers argue that for the above reasons and more, transplant centers considering a potential donor’s risk might do well to acknowledge the undeniable benefits for certain donors as well.

“Van Pilsum Rasmussen, S. E., M. Henderson, J. Kahn, and D. Segev. “Considering Tangible Benefit for Interdependent Donors: Extending a Risk–Benefit Framework in Donor Selection.” American Journal of Transplantation 17, no. 10 (Oct. 2017): 2567-2571.

5 (Big) Benefits of a Live vs. Deceased-Donor Kidney

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!