Each year, the number of people on the transplant waiting list continues to grow larger than the number of organ donors. You can help by becoming a living donor and offering a kidney or part of your liver to a family member, friend, or a stranger in need. Doing so not only eliminates time spent on the waiting list, but also gives them a second chance at life.
If you’re considering living organ donation, you may feel scared and anxious about what to expect from the process.
Let’s start by debunking some of the common myths and misconceptions so that you can make an informed decision.
Myth #1: I have to be related to the recipient
Of the 6,000 living donations that occur each year, about 25 percent of donors aren’t biologically related to the recipient. In fact, the number of living donors who aren’t related has nearly tripled over the last 20 years. To determine if you qualify to become a living donor, you will undergo an extensive transplant evaluation to assess your health. In the past, one requirement for living donation was that the transplant recipient and donor needed to be a blood group match. However, this is no longer important.
Anyone may be able to receive an organ from someone with type O blood. People with this blood type are known as “universal donors.”
Also, you don’t have to be from the same racial or ethnic group to donate an organ.
Myth #2: If I’m not a match for my loved one, I can’t donate
Say you want to become a living-kidney donor for a loved one, but you’re told you aren’t a match. There’s also the possibility of a paired exchange. A paired exchange matches incompatible donor-recipient pairs with another pair seeking a donation, allowing both recipients to receive a kidney from a compatible donor.
Myth #3: I’ll need to take antirejection medications after a living organ donation
This isn’t true at all. Other than taking painkillers after the surgery, you won’t need to take any medications for your recovery. This includes any antirejection medications. Only the recipient will have to take antirejection drugs.
But you’ll need to visit the hospital again a few weeks after the surgery. You’ll undergo follow-up testing to make sure you’re healing well.
Myth #4: I won’t be as healthy after an organ donation
After donating a portion of your liver, cells in the remaining lobe regenerate, or grow back, until the liver is almost back to its original size. The liver has an amazing capacity to regenerate in about three months.
After a kidney donation, the remaining kidney can still effectively remove waste from the body.
Recovery times vary, but within three months, most donors will return to their pre-donation health. Compared to the general population, a living donor’s life expectancy isn’t cut short.
Myth #5: Living organ donation is unsafe
Having a major surgery when you’re healthy can produce risks on its own. On the morning of your transplant surgery, you’ll be admitted to the hospital. The surgery takes between three and five hours. After the surgery, you’ll go to a recovery room. Donors usually spend two to seven days in recovery before being discharged from the hospital.
But organ donation isn’t more unsafe than any other type of surgery. Minor complications can include infections, and rarely, bleeding and blood clots.
Death resulting from organ donation is very rare. The risk of having a life-threatening issue after donation is roughly 0.03 percent.
Myth #6: It’s against my religion
Almost all major religions support organ donation as an act of generosity and compassion. If you have concerns or questions, contact a religious leader at your local place of worship.
Myth #7: I don’t qualify because of my age
To become a living donor, you must be in good health and meet certain age requirements. Acceptable ages typically vary by transplant center. If you’re unsure whether you qualify because of your age, check with the living donor team at your hospital or transplant center.
Myth #8: I’m not healthy enough to donate an organ
This depends. There are a few medical conditions that can disqualify you. In general, you can’t have a history of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B and C
- human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- heavy smoking
You should be free from alcohol and substance use (including cigarettes) for at least six months before the surgery. People with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 32 will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Living donors must undergo an extensive evaluation before being allowed to donate. This will make sure the benefits outweigh the potential risks. If you meet the qualifications to become a donor, the transplant team will contact you regarding next steps.
Myth #9: I can’t afford to be a donor
The recipient’s insurance will cover the cost of the evaluation and surgery. You can meet with a financial coordinator during the process to answer any questions.
Depending on your income, the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) can help potential donors and their support person. They can help with expenses related to travel, lodging, and meals during the organ donation process. You may also be eligible for short-term disability if you have that benefit through your employer.
Myth #10: I can’t change my mind
This isn’t true. You have the right to “opt out” at any point in the process. All interactions with doctors or your transplant team are confidential.
Feeling pressured by a friend or family member to donate? The medical staff will work with you to ensure that you are comfortable with your decision to become a living donor.
As a living donor, you’re always considered a volunteer. This must be something that you choose to do and feel comfortable doing at all times.
The bottom line
Knowing the risks and benefits of living organ donation can give you the confidence to make an informed decision. If you have any further questions or concerns, contact the living donor team at your local hospital or transplant center.