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Become a Living Donor

Becoming a living kidney donor is a selfless act of love that may provide life-saving help for someone. It’s also a decision that requires serious consideration and one that must be voluntary, without pressure from others.

If you’re interested in exploring kidney donation at UNC Medical Center, you’ll work with a team of medical professionals who put your safety and well-being first, so you can help others while still maintaining your own health.

Am I a Kidney Donor Candidate?

If you’re considering donating a kidney, you’ll undergo a thorough medical exam to check that your organ is a good match for recipient and to ensure that you have no health concerns that might put your own life in danger. A living donor advocate will be assigned to you to ensure this donation is in your best interest. You’ll also meet with a social worker and a psychologist, who’ll answer your questions, make sure you’re aware of risks associated with organ donation and transplant, and prepare you for surgery and recovery.

Your medical exam will include, but is not limited to:

  • Blood tests to check your blood type and make sure the recipient’s body will be able to accept your kidney
  • Urine tests and a renal ultrasound to check the health of your kidney
  • A chest X-ray to check your heart and lung health
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) – A test of your heart’s electric activity
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan to allow the surgeon to see your blood vessels and decide which kidney will be donated
  • A heart stress test and a colonoscopy if you’re over 50 years old
  • A Pap test and a mammogram if you’re a woman

In addition, you’ll meet with our kidney transplant financial coordinator to discuss any possible monetary costs. The living donation surgery is generally covered by the recipient’s insurance, but there may be some costs that are not covered.

If there are no physical or emotional concerns, you’ll be allowed to donate a kidney.

Consider Benefits and Risks

Your donation will help improve the quality of another person’s life. And research has shown a kidney from a living donor can last longer than one from a deceased donor. Benefits to living kidney donation include:

  • No waiting time for the recipient – average wait time for a deceased donor kidney is 4-5 years.
  • Better quality kidney – from healthy living person, no injury, surgeries done at same time.
  • Living donation provides a benefit to others on waiting list. By receiving a living donor kidney, the recipient no longer needs a spot on the deceased donor waiting list.
  • A kidney from a living donor lasts longer, does better.
  • It is a planned surgery, scheduled at a time that is optimal for the donor and the recipient.

If you choose to be a kidney donor, you’ll get expert, individualized care at UNC Center for Transplant Care. But there are risks with every surgery, such as:

  • General anesthesia for the surgery
  • 25-35% loss of kidney function in the donor
  • Increased risk for high blood pressure during future pregnancies
  • Scar
  • Possibility of a hernia
  • Depression

We will be sure you’re well informed about these and other risks.

What to Expect When You Donate a Kidney

If you qualify for donation, our typical approach is a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical procedure. With this procedure, you’ll benefit from a faster healing time and less pain and scarring. UNC Center for Transplant Care was the first transplant program in North Carolina to perform this innovative surgery, which allows doctors to remove a kidney through a very small incision. Today, nearly all live-donor procedures at UNC use this least-invasive procedure.

After surgery, you’ll spend about three days in the hospital, and you’ll need to return for follow-up appointments at two and four weeks after surgery. You can expect to go back to work in as little as three to four weeks after surgery unless your job requires heavy lifting.

Be prepared to make arrangements to remain in the area (within a 2 hour drive to UNC) after discharge. You will need to be in the area until you are seen for your 2 week post-operative visit.

Read more about common living kidney donation myths.

Learn more about donating a kidney by reading our Living Donor Education Book [PDF].

Below are some links to websites with more information about living kidney donation.

If you have questions or are interested in donation, call our living donor coordinator at 984-974-7568 or email livingdonors@unchealth.unc.edu.

Contact Us

If you have questions or are interested in donation, call our donor coordinator at 984-974-7568.

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