Living Donor Kidney Transplant
If you are interested in donating a kidney to a relative, friend or any individual on Sentara’s kidney transplant waiting list, you may have many questions about the process and the surgery itself.
The Sentara Transplant Center is fully equipped to work with you as a potential donor. We do exhaustive testing to be sure you are healthy enough to donate a kidney and are also a good genetic match for the intended recipient. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained surgeons oversee your entire donor process—from your initial screenings to your surgery and recovery.
You are in good hands with Sentara. We have been successfully performing kidney transplants since 1972. We handle approximately 60-70 kidney transplants each year and more than half of them are from living donors.
Living Donor Kidney Transplant: A Life-Saving Procedure
It is no exaggeration to say that your kidney donation could save your recipient’s life. Patients who need kidney transplants are experiencing end-stage renal disease, or “kidney failure.” Their kidneys can no longer filter waste products from their bloodstream.
Kidney failure is a life-threatening condition. People experiencing kidney failure must either undergo up to 16 hours of kidney dialysis per week and/or hope for a kidney transplant. Dialysis can extend a person’s life for many years, but it is not a permanent solution. A kidney transplant is more effective because:
- Actual kidneys do a better job: A human kidney will always be more effective at filtering a patient’s blood and helping maintain their health than an artificial process like dialysis.
- Higher survival rates: Kidney transplant patients are living longer than ever before—and longer than patients undergoing dialysis. The 10-year survival rate for kidney transplant patients is approximately 4 times longer than patients who are on dialysis. If the transplant recipient is your loved one or friend, these statistics will be personally meaningful to you.
- Personal reward: Sentara’s experience with living kidney donors has been overwhelmingly positive. Donors tend to carry a sense of meaning and purpose throughout their lives. They know they saved or extended another person’s life.
Types of Living Kidney Donations
There are 3 kinds of living kidney donations: direct, paired exchange and altruistic, or “non-directed.” Sentara’s Transplant Center can help facilitate all 3 types of donations.
- Direct kidney donation: If you know your recipient, you can donate your kidney “directly” to that person. The best direct donors are related family members. Relatives have the best chance of being genetically compatible with each other, which means the kidney has a better chance of succeeding after transplantation.
- Paired-exchange kidney donation: If you are not a compatible donor for your intended recipient, you can do what is called a “paired exchange.” With the help of organizations like the National Kidney Registry, you donate a kidney in “exchange” for another individual donating a compatible kidney for your loved one or friend. Learn more about paired-exchange kidney donations.
- Altruistic, or non-directed, kidney donation: You may choose to donate a kidney, even though you do not have a friend or loved one who is currently in need. Perhaps someone in your life had kidney disease and was helped by a transplant. Or maybe you wanted to be a donor for someone else in the past and were not compatible. Whatever your reason, you can donate a kidney anonymously. Or you may choose to meet your recipient (if they agree) after a one-year waiting period.
The Kidney Donor Transplant Process
If you would like to learn more about possibly becoming a kidney donor, we are here to help make the process as easy and streamlined as possible. The first step is to determine your eligibility to become a donor.
Start by accessing our online screening tool. You will fill out a short, confidential transplant questionnaire. One of our Sentara transplant coordinators will get in touch with you after they review your information.
Initial Donor Screenings
- Confidentiality: Be assured that anything you say to our transplant coordinator, as well as the results of your medical tests, is confidential. None of your private information will be shared with your possible kidney transplant recipient. Also, if you change your mind about donating a kidney at any point, we will respect your choice. Donating a kidney is a major decision.
- High-risk factors: If you have a medical history of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease or are at risk of developing kidney disease in your future, you will not be eligible to donate your kidney. Otherwise, you will continue on to the next phases of donor evaluation.
- Blood tests: If your initial screening indicates that you are healthy, we will arrange for you to undergo initial blood tests. We need to be sure your blood type (A, B or O) is compatible with that of intended recipient.
- Tissue and cross-match testing: If your blood type is compatible with the potential kidney recipient, we will then take samples and check for a body tissue match between the two of you. The “cross match” is the most important test of all. During this test, your blood, and the recipient’s blood are mixed together to be certain they are compatible with each other. If these tests are positive, you will proceed to the next steps.
Further Donor Evaluation and Testing
Once you have successfully passed the initial kidney donor screening and compatibility testing, we will begin your detailed evaluation process.
- Meet with Sentara’s donor advocate, donor social worker and living donor transplant coordinator: These professionals will fully explain the kidney donation process. They will also give you a copy of the surgical consent form and evaluation consent form to sign.
- Begin your clinical testing: We will ask you to undergo further blood tests, urine tests, a chest X-ray and EKG (electrocardiogram). After we get your test results, we will review them with you and discuss next steps.
- Undergo a CT scan of your kidneys: The CT (computerized tomography) scan helps us look more carefully at your kidneys to be certain they are both normal in appearance and anatomy. Women will also undergo a PAP smear and mammogram.
- Undergo a complete physical examination and meet with a nephrologist (kidney specialist): We want to be sure that you are completely healthy and that your recipient will receive a healthy kidney. If we find any medical conditions during this process that warrant further testing or treatment, we will let you know. You may need to bill those tests or treatment to your own health insurance, particularly if the condition has previously been diagnosed.
- Meet with the transplant urologist: If you make it this far, you will have reached the final step before surgery. The transplant urologist is the surgeon who will remove your kidney. Our experienced urologist will review your medical records, explain the kidney transplant procedure and its risks and answer any questions you may have. Learn more about living donor kidney transplant surgery.
Kidney Donation Risks
We understand you may have concerns about the risks associated with kidney transplant surgery. At Sentara, we always prioritize your health over your ability to donate a kidney.
As a result, our medical team will thoroughly evaluate you to ensure that you are healthy enough to donate a kidney.
We also encourage you to ask as many questions as necessary to be sure you understand any potential risks. Some helpful things to know:
- You can live with one kidney: People with one kidney seem to have no more health problems than people who still have both of their kidneys. After you recover from surgery, you do not need to take any special medication, follow a strict diet or anything else out of the norm.
- We put you through rigorous testing: Before you can become a kidney donor, we perform many medical tests to be sure you are in good health and that you have two healthy, functioning kidneys. If we have any question about your ability to withstand surgery, we will not approve you as a donor. This is for your own safety.
- Life-threatening complications from kidney donation are rare: Kidney donation is now a very common procedure, and most donors tolerate it quite well. Of course, serious complications can occur whenever you undergo major surgery. However, Sentara’s experienced medical team and advanced facilities mean you are in the best possible hands.
- Health insurance eligibility is not usually affected: Most kidney donors have no difficulty qualifying for health insurance coverage after they become kidney donors.