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Living Organ Donation

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Topic Overview

Introduction

More than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ to become available for a transplant that can save their lives. Most organs come from donors who have died. But about half of all organ donors are living donors.

How can you be a living organ donor?

Most people can be organ donors. Many people choose to donate an organ upon their death. But a person can donate certain organs while he or she is still living. These people are called "living donors."

A living donor is:

  • In good general health.
  • Free from diseases that can damage the organs, such as diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or cancer.
  • Willing to donate and free from mental health problems.
  • Usually older than age 18.
  • A match with the person receiving the organ.

Who can you donate to?

You can direct your donation to someone you know: a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a person that you know needs an organ. Or you can donate to someone in need by donating to the national waiting list. Medical tests will show if your organ is a good match with the recipient.

How is it decided who gets priority for transplants?

If you do a directed donation, your organ goes only to the person you name. If you donate to the national waiting list, your organ will go to an anonymous person on the list. If you donate to the national waiting list, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network uses a computer to match your organ with possible recipients based on things such as tissue and blood type.

What organs can you donate?

Living donors can donate these organs:

  • A kidney camera.gif
  • A lobe (part) of a lung camera.gif
  • A lobe of your liver camera.gif (It will grow back to normal size in your body and in the recipient's body over time.)
  • A section of your intestine camera.gif
  • A part of your pancreas camera.gif

You can also donate bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells.

What's the process for making an organ donation?

When you are a possible living donor, your rights and privacy are carefully protected. It's also very important to be informed about the risks of donating an organ. To help you make the best decision for you, you will have an independent donor advocate (IDA) who will guide you and answer your questions.

Here are the steps for making a donation:

  • Contact the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) at 1-888-894-6361 or go online at www.unos.org to get more information and to locate the nearest transplant center.
  • Learn about the risks. Risks vary with the organ donated and from person to person.
  • Complete a medical evaluation that includes these tests:
    • A cross-match for transplant. This is a blood test that shows whether the recipient's body will reject your donor organ immediately. The cross-match will mix your blood with the recipient's blood to see if proteins in the recipient's blood might attack your donated organ. If they do, you are not a good match with the recipient.
    • Antibody screen. This test measures whether you or the recipient has antibodies against a broad range of people. If either of you does, it means there is a higher risk of rejection, even if the cross-match shows that you and the organ recipient are a good match.
    • Blood type. This is a blood test that shows which type of blood you have—type A, B, O, or AB. Your blood type should be compatible with the organ recipient's blood type. But it is sometimes possible to transplant an organ between people with different blood types.
    • Tissue type. This is a blood test that shows the genetic makeup of your body's cells. The more traits you share with the organ recipient, the more likely it is that his or her body will accept your donated organ.
    • A mental health assessment. Many emotional issues are involved in donating an organ. A mental health assessment takes a careful look at your emotional health and how donation would affect you and your family. It will also show if you understand your own interests, the future effects on your health, and whether you're feeling pressure to donate from another person or from a sense of obligation.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 03, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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