What if a Kidney Donor Needs a Transplant Later?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 20, 2020

If you’re considering becoming a kidney donor -- giving up one of your two healthy kidneys -- you might be wondering what happens if, years or even decades from now, your remaining kidney fails.

Becoming a kidney donor can slightly predispose you to some health problems that might lead to the need for a kidney transplant later in life. After all, one kidney is doing the job normally done by two.

If that happened, you would not automatically go to the head of the list for donated kidneys. But having been a donor would come with some advantages.

Because of this, the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which is in charge of matching kidneys with patients, will give you four extra points in its system if you have been a kidney donor. And the more points you have, the higher you move on the waiting list for a new kidney. In other words, previous kidney donors get “priority” status to receive a donor kidney if they need one.

Just how likely is it that you’d need to take advantage of this priority status? Between 2010 and 2015, about 200 people in the U.S. who had been kidney donors were added to the national kidney waiting list. That’s an average of 40 a year.

Compare that with the more than 5,000 people who become living kidney donors each year, and you’ll see that you have a low chance -- less than one in a hundred -- of needing a kidney transplant after donating one of yours.

Show Sources


Kaiser Family Foundation: “What Happens When A Living Kidney Donor Needs A Transplant?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “What Kidney Donors Need to Know.”

Transplantation: “Living kidney donors in need of kidney transplants: a report from the organ procurement and transplantation network.”

Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: “Delays in Prior Living Kidney Donors Receiving Priority on the Transplant Waiting List.”

United Network for Organ Sharing: “Transplant Trends.”

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