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Can I Donate Certain Organs While I’m Still Alive?


Saturday, May 9th, 2015

This post was last undated on April 6, 2017.

More than 118,000 people currently are waiting for organ transplantation, with thousands more in need of tissue and corneal transplants.

A large majority of organ donations occur via a deceased donor. However, living donation is possible with certain organs and tissues, enabling doctors to save more people in desperate need of a transplant. Traditionally, organ transplants were done using organs from deceased donors. Today, because of advances in surgical capabilities, organ donors can still be alive and give the gift of life.

Many people who know someone in need of an organ transplant often consider becoming a living donor. Other selfless individuals become a living donor solely to make a difference in the lives of others, regardless of not knowing anyone personally in need of transplant.

RELATED: What is Living-Donor Liver Transplant Surgery?

What Organs Can be Donated Via Living Donation?

  • Kidney — Individuals can donate one of their kidneys to a recipient to compensate for the failing kidney of the transplant recipient. This is the most common form of living donation.
  • Liver — Individuals can donate a portion of their liver which is then implanted into the recipient. The liver cells regenerate after the donation until it has regrown to almost its original size in both the donor and recipient.

Advantages of Living-Donor Transplant

Every day, about 21 people in the United States die while waiting for an organ transplant. Living-donor transplant offers many advantages for people with chronic kidney and liver disease. Donors have the additional benefit of knowing that they have contributed to another person’s life in a very meaningful way.

  • Living-donor transplant is a life-saving procedure for people with end-stage kidney or liver disease, and it increases the number of available organs for people on the kidney and liver transplant waiting lists.
  • With organs readily available for transplant, donors and recipients can schedule surgery at a time that is convenient for them.
  • Flexible scheduling allows the transplant to take place sooner which can save recipients valuable time on the transplant waiting list.
  • Because the donor’s organs are functioning up until the time of transplant, the recipient can benefit from improved long-term outcomes and a quicker recovery.

Who Is Eligible to Donate an Organ?

Living kidney and liver donors can range from family and friends to anonymous individuals, called altruistic donors, if they meet the requirements to donate. In some kidney transplant cases — depending on a blood type match and meeting other eligibility requirements — donors can take part in a kidney exchange or “match,” where two or more pairs of related donors and recipients donate to each other.

For example, in April 2013, eight people participated in a kidney transplant chain that took place over two days at UPMC Montefiore. In that time, UPMC surgeons performed four kidney removal surgeries, called nephrectomies, and four kidney transplant surgeries as part of the chain.

Potential living donors should be:

  • Between the ages of 18 and 55
  • In good general health and have no history of heart disease, liver disease – including cirrhosis and hepatitis B and C, diabetes, HIV, cancers, or other disease that could complicate surgery

RELATED: 6 Common Organ Donation Myths Debunked

What Are the Risks of Being a Living Donor?

Surgery of any kind can carry inherent risks that both the donor and recipient should consider carefully. Rarely are complications serious enough to require further corrective surgery or medical procedures. Risks may include:

  • Post-surgical discomfort
  • Infection
  • Organ damage or other complications

If you’re thinking of donating an organ, it’s important to understand the risks involved. It’s a big decision, but one you can make after weighing all of the options. To learn more about organ donation, including debunked myths about organ donation, visit UPMC Transplant Services’ Donate Life page.

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Transplant Services

For more than 30 years, UPMC Transplantation Services has defined the field of transplantation. Since 1981, we have performed more than 17,500 organ transplants. Our role as a pioneer in solid organ transplantation has allowed us to develop some of the most extensive clinical expertise in the field, giving hope to patients across the country and around the world. Read More