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Living Kidney Donation

Most transplanted kidneys come from people whose organs were donated upon death. But it can take several years to get a transplant.

As a living kidney donor, you can help with the extraordinary, lifesaving decision of donating a kidney.

UC San Diego Health’s kidney transplant program is skilled in the complex care of living donors. Be assured our highest priority is to protect your health, safety, privacy and best interests.

Benefits of Living Kidney Donation

Kidneys from live donors offer significant advantages to patients. To donors, there is no physical benefit. Still, most living donors report an emotional benefit with similar or better quality of life than before the surgery compared to other people their age.

Typically, healthy people who donate a kidney recover and lead normal lives, despite some reduction in kidney function.

  • Minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery for kidney removal greatly improves the donor's recovery process with shorter recovery time, low complication rate and lower need for strong pain medication.
  • Surgery can be scheduled at a time that is convenient for both the recipient and the donor.
  • Recipients of living donors receive transplants before they start on dialysis or earlier into the start of dialysis treatment, which increases their life span.

Who Can Become a Living Kidney Donor?

Start the Process

Please provide your health history to help us determine if you are a possible candidate:

  • Go online to complete a confidential health questionnaire.
  • Or call 858-657-7729, and we'll help you complete the questionnaire.

Organ donation is completely voluntary, and you can stop or delay the process at any time. 

Living kidney donors can be close friends, acquaintances, blood relatives or even altruistic donors (people who do not know the recipient) who:

  • Older than 18 years of age
  • Are blood-type and tissue-type compatible
  • Have normal kidney function
  • Are in excellent health
  • Fully understand the risks and benefits of donation before giving consent

Donor Evaluation Process

We'll review your information on the questionnaire. If you are a possible candidate, you'll have a health screening call with one of our coordinators.

After you're approved, you'll meet the living kidney donor team and undergo different laboratory and diagnostic tests. The results will give us a better picture of your suitability.

You'll also need to complete all routine health screenings with your primary care doctor — such as a pap smear, mammogram or colonoscopy — depending on your age and gender. You may need additional consults with specialists.

Kidney Donation Options

Any healthy person can safely donate a kidney if they’re a match.

Direct Donation

This is the most common type of living donation. The donor generally knows the recipient and donates directly to them. Directed donations are often between blood relatives, like parents, siblings or children. They can also occur between people with close personal relationships, such as a spouse, friend, co-worker or acquaintance.

Paired Kidney Exchange

The paired exchange program typically involves two pairs of a recipient and donor who are not blood- or tissue-compatible compatible with each other. The recipient in one pair is compatible with the donor in the other and vice versa. We work with the National Kidney Registry's Paired Exchange Program to perform paired kidney exchange transplants.

Kidney Donation Voucher Programs

The National Kidney Registry Voucher Program lets donors choose a convenient time frame for their surgery and provide one or more vouchers to their intended recipients.

  1. Standard voucher program: This allows people to donate a kidney up to a year before their intended recipient needs one. It's helpful to donors who may want to be their recipient’s caregiver by allowing them to heal before the transplant
  2. Altruistic donation / family voucher program: This helps donors who don't know someone in immediate need of a kidney transplant but want to help other patients by starting a chain and donating their kidney to a stranger now. The voucher can be used later when a family member needs a transplant.

Remote Donation

This option helps donors who want to donate a kidney to a friend or family member who has their care at a transplant center outside San Diego County. Donors can complete evaluation and surgery at UC San Diego Health instead of traveling to their recipient's transplant center.

Remote donation is available for direct donation, paired exchange and the standard voucher program.

Living Kidney Donor Team

Donating an organ is a major decision. It's important to be completely honest with the transplant team about your fears and concerns. We can address your concerns and provide objective advice so that you can make an informed choice that is right for you.

Our interdisciplinary transplant team includes specialists in all areas of patient care, including surgeons, nephrologists, infectious disease specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, dieticians, program coordinators, and physical and occupational therapists. We also have living donor specialists who provide medical, surgical and psychological support for potential donors.

Living Donor Surgery

Explore Transplant

Learn more about living kidney transplants from patients and professionals at Explore Transplant.

We have performed more than 4,000 transplants, including San Diego’s first kidney transplant and the first organ transplant performed south of Los Angeles.

Be prepared to take off at least 6 weeks from work and avoid strenuous activity.

The living donor operation is typically done laparoscopically by making small incisions with the aid of a camera. The minimally invasive surgery, which is less painful and has faster recovery, takes three to four hours.

You stay in the hospital for one to two days. We'll coordinate your discharge and provide any support you need for recovery.

Donation Costs

The transplant recipient's insurance usually pays the living donor's costs for hospitalization, diagnostic tests, evaluation, living donor surgery and follow-up visits. However, travel, living expenses and time off work are often not covered. 

Our financial coordinators can help you navigate all the costs involved, including assistance options for nonmedical expenses like lost wages and travel costs from Donor Shield and the National Living Donor Assistance Center.

​Appointments and Referrals

Center For Transplantation Locations

La Jolla

Meet Our Specialists

Classes and Support Groups

Join our complimentary classes and/or support groups to learn about the transplant process, ask questions and share your experiences with other transplant patients.

Learn About

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