At any given time, about 600 patients in the Scripps network are waiting for a kidney transplant — and that’s only a fraction of the number of people waiting for a kidney across the US.
Despite ongoing efforts to encourage organ donation, there are still not enough kidney donors in the US to meet the need — and more patients join the kidney wait list each year.
If you or a loved one needs a kidney, finding a living donor not only takes you off the wait list, it allows the next person in line to receive their transplant faster.
Get the facts about living kidney donation and learn more about finding or becoming a donor.
A living kidney donor is someone who chooses to give one of their two healthy kidneys to someone in need.
Kidneys from living donors are less expensive than dialysis and allow a patient to live about 12 years longer than someone who receives a kidney from a deceased donor.
Not all willing donors can give a kidney to their intended relative or friend because their blood types must be compatible. In the past, these donors would have been turned away, but that's no longer the case.
Potential donors who can’t give a kidney to a loved one can instead choose to be matched with another compatible recipient. Then — as part of what is known as a kidney chain, or a donor exchange — the family member or friend will likewise receive a kidney from a stranger. The chain grows from there. One type, the Never-Ending Altruistic Donor Chain, is initiated by a good Samaritan who seeks to donate to a stranger in need rather than someone they know.
“We’re seeing for the first time ever that biologically unrelated kidney donors are on par to exceed related donors.”Randolph Schaffer III, MD
“This has opened the door to transplantation for donor and recipient pairs who are not compatible with each other,” says Randolph Schaffer III, MD, a transplant surgeon who leads the living donor program at Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation. “Now they can continue with the hope of benefiting the person they intended to give to but weren’t able.”
Hospitals and organizations like United Network for Organ Sharing can connect networks of numerous donors and recipients, and arrange lightning-fast transportation of the organ.
In each of the last few years, Scripps averaged about 70 kidney transplants, and is on track to see about 100 this year. About a third of those have been from living donors, and of those kidneys from living donors, a third or so are obtained through the kidney chain.
Sometimes, finding a living donor is as easy as asking, says Dr. Schaffer. “Often the biggest impairment for patients is a reluctance to talk about their need,” he explains. “It can feel a little awkward, so many just avoid having the conversation.”
And there may be someone out there who wants to donate but doesn’t know it yet. “We always encourage patients to get their story out there and let people know,” Dr. Schaffer adds.
Folks considering becoming a donor can learn a lot by reaching out to their desired recipient. The patient’s transplant hospital can also be a valuable resource. “Their sole purpose is to guide donors through what it means and whether it’ll be right for them,” says Dr. Schaffer. “Reaching out doesn’t oblige anyone to donate.”
He also recommends consulting resources from the United Network for Organ Sharing.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.