What it Takes to Become a Living Kidney Donor

More than 100,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. That wait can be five to seven years - time many of them don’t have.

Cheryl Green learned all about that when her dear friend of nearly 20 years told her she had end stage kidney failure.

“She explained that the only other option was a live donor,” said Green. “And, when she told me that, I just heard myself saying, ‘I'll give you one of mine."

Donating a kidney was a no-brainer for this Bastrop woman.

"Her instinct reaction was, ‘you do not need to do that, you do not have to do that,” Green recalled. “And, I said, ‘I know. I know I don't have to do that. It's something I want to do."

But, wanting to be a living kidney donor, and actually being able to part with one, are two different things.

"The chances of developing kidney failure after donating are not zero,” explained Dr. Richard Lewis, a transplant surgeon. “They're the same as if someone hadn't donated a kidney."

Lewis is the surgical director of the Kidney Transplant Center at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center – the only facility of its kind in the Austin area. He said potential donors are rigorously screened, and undergo many medical tests, to make sure they’re healthy enough to live well with one kidney.

"The driving concept is we don't want to make anyone worse,” Lewis explained. “We don't want to do any harm to someone. They are already going to have an operation that, for their own health, they don't need."

He said a healthy donor must have the same blood type as the recipient. And, a blood test, called a cross match, is done to make sure the recipient doesn’t have antibodies against the donor.

"As long as there are none of those bad acting antibodies, and as long as the basic blood types are compatible, that's all that's necessary for a good outcome,” said Lewis.

When Green found out she was a match for her friend, she said, "It wasn't a surprise. It was like a validation that this was the way it was supposed to all be."

In September 2013, Green and her friend had their surgery at University Transplant Center in San Antonio.

When she woke up afterward, and was assured all went well, Green said, "It very much was like the way I felt with the birth of my children. In a sense, it is giving life to someone. And, there was a sense of elation. We named the kidneys. The one that was being transplanted, we named Nicole Kidney. And, the one that was left behind is Hans Solo."

Two years later, both women are healthy and thriving. Having one kidney hasn’t slowed Green down. In fact, she has run nine half-marathons – the first one only four months post-surgery.

"I have a few scars that tell the story,” she said. “But, other than that, I have to remind myself that I've done that. It hasn't impacted me in a negative way whatsoever."

Donors have yearly check-ups, to make sure the remaining kidney is properly functioning, and can expect to lead normal lives. Green encourages others to consider giving that gift to someone in need.

"It is something to be considered prayerfully,” she said. “But, you can continue on in your day to day life -- just as you are now with two kidneys -- with one kidney. I recommend it. It was worth it. I would do it all over again. No regrets."

It’s important to note, the recipient’s insurance pays for the donor’s surgery. And, if a living kidney donor were to ever experience kidney failure, they would go straight to the top of the waiting list for a deceased donor kidney.

To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, click here.