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Thinking about becoming an organ donor? Get the facts

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Melissa Levine, of New Jersey, donated her kidney to her husband of 15 years, David Levine, on Aug. 1, 2011. Her kidney was a perfect match for him, and David is now very healthy, Melissa said. In the photo, Melissa and David pose with their daughters, Madison, 11, and Morgan, 7. (National Kidney Foundation)

There are currently more than 116,000 Americans on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant—kidney, liver, heart, lung or pancreas. 

Of these, close to 95,000 are waiting for a new kidney. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 13 people die each day while waiting—and the list keeps on growing. 

April is National Donate Life Month, and the National Kidney Foundation urges all Americans to learn more about the organ donation process. This selfless act can save a life.

A donated organ can come from someone who has died and has signed his or her state's donor registry. Or, in the case of kidney, liver and even lung donation, it may also come from a living donor. A transplant from a living donor will last longer.

Why is that?  

Some living donor transplants are between family members who are genetically similar. A better genetic match lessens the risk of rejection. A kidney from a living donor usually functions immediately, making it easier to monitor. Also, a potential donor can be tested ahead of time to see how compatible he or she might be with the recipient. 

If it’s a strong match, the transplant can take place at a time convenient for both the donor and recipient, making it easier to get  time off of work.

Transplant centers do a very detailed job of making the whole process as safe and smooth as possible. If you make it past the initial screening, then you will go for a series of tests to make certain that you, as a potential donor, do not have health or kidney issues that would make donating a problem. The potential donor does not have to pay for this evaluation.

Once you are cleared to donate by the transplant center, the operation can be scheduled and performed.  The kidney donation operation is often a laparoscopic procedure, which is hugely convenient, allowing for minimal recovery time.  Even though this is a major procedure, donors can eat often within hours after the operation and can go home within one to two days, if everything is going well.  

Most donors are back to their usual activities only a couple of weeks after the operation.

Kidneys, being the amazing organs that they are, do some incredible things.  The donor’s remaining kidney will grow about 20 percent in size and perform the work of two kidneys so that when a donor goes back to the doctor, all the measurements of kidney function will trend back towards normal within a few months. 

And we know that donors go on to lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.  By donating a kidney or another organ, you are truly granting someone the gift of life.

For more information on becoming a donor, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s Living Donor Website.

 

Dr. Bryan N. Becker, a transplant physician, is past president and current board member of the National Kidney Foundation. He is presently associate vice-president for Health Affairs, serving as chief executive for the University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics in Chicago.

Dr. Yolanda T. Becker is a professor of surgery and director of the Kidney and Pancreas Program at the University of Chicago Medicine. She serves on the board of directors for the American Society of Transplantation and the United Network for Organ Sharing.

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