What is a living donor transplant

Types of Living Donation

Directed Donation

In a directed donation, the donor specifically names the person to which they are donating who will receive the transplant. This is the most common type of living donation. In a directed donation, the donor may be:

  • a biological relative, such as a parent, brother, sister, or adult child
  • a biologically unrelated person who has a personal or social connection with the transplant candidate, such as a spouse or significant other, a friend or a coworker
  • a biologically unrelated person who has heard about the transplant candidate’s need


In a non-directed donation, the living donor is not related to or known by the recipient, but makes his/her donation purely out of selfless motives. The match is arranged based on medical compatibility with a patient in need. Some non-directed donors choose never to meet their recipient. In other cases, the donor and recipient may meet at some time, if they both agree, and if the transplant center policy permits it.

Paired Donation

Also called paired kidney exchange, paired donation or paired exchange involves at least two pairs of living kidney donors and transplant candidates who do no not have matching blood types. The candidates “trade” donors so that each candidate receives a kidney from a donor with a compatible blood type.

Who can Donate?

Living donors should be in good overall physical and mental health and older than 18 years of age. Some medical conditions could prevent an individual from being a living donor. Since some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important that living donor candidates share all information about their physical and mental health. It is important to be fully informed of the known risks involved with donating and complete a full medical and psychosocial evaluation. The decision to donate should be completely voluntary and free of pressure or guilt.


Living donation is major surgery. All complications of major surgery apply. These include:

  • pain
  • infection at the incision site
  • incisional hernia
  • pneumonia
  • blood clots
  • hemorrhaging
  • potential need for blood transfusions
  • side effects associated with allergic reactions to the anesthesia
  • death

The best source of information about risks and expected donor outcomes is the transplant team. In addition, it is important to take an active role in learning more about these potential surgical risks and long-term complications.

Living donors may also experience negative psychological symptoms right after donation or later. The transplanted organ may not work right away. There is also the chance it will not work at all. Donors may feel sad, anxious, angry, or resentful after surgery. Donation may change the relationship between donor and recipient.

Living donors must be made aware of the physical and psychological risks involved before they consent to donate an organ. Please discuss all feelings, questions and concerns with a transplant professional and/or social worker.

How to Start the Process

To help someone through living donation, talk to him or her and the transplant program where the person is listed. To be a non-directed living donor, contact a transplant center to find out if they have this type of donation program.

Laurell and Katherine’s Living Donation Story

“Because of Katherine, we are planning for life again,” says Laurell. “Katherine is a beautiful soul.” Click here to read their full story.


References: TransplantLiving.org, UNOS.org, OPTN.transplant.HRSA.gov, and Kidney.org.