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Think you don’t have the time, money or courage to give a kidney? Think again.

By Dr. Michael Marvin, Chair of Transplantation and Liver Surgery at Geisinger Medical Center

When it comes to donating a kidney, you’ve probably heard conflicting information about the process. Whether you’re considering donating or you’re just trying to learn more, here’s what you need to know.

Myth #1: Only young people can donate a kidney

There’s no absolute age limit for adult donors, and we welcome “older” donors who want to help save a life. Requirements to be a kidney donor include:

  • Being 18 or older
  • Being in good health with no chronic medical conditions
  • Having normal kidney function

Younger donors are typically matched with younger recipients. If you’re older and you’d like to donate to someone younger but would be willing to donate to someone else, we can find you a more suitable match.

This program, called donor exchange, pairs donors with a better match and finds a new match for you. Your transplant team will help coordinate this.

Myth #2: You have to be related to someone to give them your kidney

You don’t have to be related to someone to donate. In fact, many donors aren’t a match for their family members.

Before you can start the process, you’ll undergo testing to determine if you’re a match. Pre-donation testing may include:

  • Physical exam
  • Chest X-ray
  • Cancer screening
  • Urine testing
  • Bloodwork

To be a match, you need to have a compatible:

  • Blood type If you have type O blood, you can give to anyone regardless of their blood type (O, A, B or AB). If you have type A, B or AB blood, you can give to someone with the same blood group or someone with blood type AB. Recipients with type AB blood can get a kidney from all blood types.
  • Tissue type During this blood test, the transplant team will check your genetic makeup to see how similar it is to the recipient’s. If it’s similar enough, you’ll be considered a match.
  • Cross-matching During this test, cells from your blood will be mixed with serum from the recipient. After mixing the two samples, a technician will check to see how the recipient’s antibodies react to yours. This determines how well a recipient’s body will react to your donor kidney.

If you’re a match, you can begin the transplant process. If you’re not a match, you can donate to someone else on the kidney transplant waiting list.

Myth #3: Donors have to stay in the hospital for a long time

After donating a kidney, you may only have to stay in the hospital overnight. Most donors stay in the hospital 1-2 days. However, before you can go home, you’ll need to be able to eat, urinate and walk around without too much discomfort. 

We use local anesthesia and a combination of non-addicting pain medications after surgery. All so you can more comfortably move around and go home as quickly as possible.

After you leave the hospital, your doctor may recommend a few temporary restrictions. These may include:

  • Not lifting anything over 10 pounds
  • Limiting strenuous activity like exercise
  • Avoiding or limiting driving

Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a customized aftercare plan.

Myth #4: You’ll need long-term medical care after donating a kidney

After a short recovery, you continue on with life normally and do the things you did before without restrictions or medications. Your transplant team will monitor you for up to two years after your donation. This helps them identify any potential changes in your kidney function and overall health.

Myth #5: Donating a kidney is expensive

All medical costs associated with donation, from your initial workup to care after the transplant, will be covered by the recipient’s insurance. You can discuss costs before the procedure with your transplant team, too.

A living donor assistance program is available to help with costs related to travel and lost wages. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers living donation. Ask your doctor for more information.

How to become a kidney donor

The decision to donate a kidney is a personal one. That’s why, if you’re considering live kidney donation, you’ll have an entire team to support you.

If you’d like to become a living kidney donor, start by talking to your healthcare provider. They can help you decide if kidney donation is right for you. If you decide that live kidney donation is right for you, fill out this form to get started.

Next steps:

Meet Michael Marvin, MD
Learn about transplants at Geisinger
Interested in donating a kidney? Fill out our living donor form.