Living organ donation

Learn how you can help save a life.

A life-changing experience for both recipients and living donors

Woman talking with clinic staff memberLiving donation is a surgery performed on a healthy adult, where one donates a kidney or part of his/her liver to a patient with renal failure or end stage liver disease. Typically, family and friends including spouses donate to the patient in need. However, our program has several donors donate without knowing their recipients.

Living kidney donors can enjoy a normal life with one kidney. The same can be said for living liver donors—the liver of a living donor will regenerate and function normally.

If you are thinking about the decision to donate, make an appointment with the UCHealth Transplant Center staff. UCHealth operates the leading transplant program in the Rocky Mountain region.

Ready to begin the process?

Click the button link below to display a confidential online questionnaire. The information you provide will be used by our living donor team to carefully review your medical history to make sure donation will be a safe option for you.

Only healthcare professionals from the UCHealth living donor team will see your information.

Become a living donor

After passing the initial screening, our living donor team will review the questionnaire and reach out to discuss next steps in the living donor evaluation process. Prescreening testing is then completed, which can include blood and/or urine testing. Prescreening results are reviewed, and donors are contacted to come in for an evaluation with the living donor team.

Male patient listening to doctorYour evaluation will occur over one to two days and will include a consultation with a living donor physician, surgeon, nurse coordinator, and social worker, along with a dietitian and pharmacist as indicated. Every living donor will be assigned an independent living donor advocate whose role is separate from the transplant team and whose only responsibility is the well-being of the donor to protect their interests, rights and decision. During the evaluation, further testing will be done to make sure living donation is a safe option for you. We encourage you to bring a close family member or friend with you for support and to make sure all of your questions are answered.

Before you come to your evaluation appointment, make sure your age-appropriate health screenings are up-to-date (e.g., a colonoscopy for men, or a mammogram and pap smear for females) and that you bring copies of the results. All living donors are required to commit to ongoing follow-up and testing at six months, one year, and two years after living donation.

Our living donor team is ready to help you decide if helping to save another’s life is an option for you.

The body has two kidneys, but is capable of functioning normally with only one. After donation of one kidney, the remaining kidney will grow and function for both.

Receiving a kidney from a living donor has many benefits:

  • It eliminates the waiting period and the negative impact of waiting on the recipient’s health.
  • Surgeries can be scheduled at a convenient time for both the donor and recipient.
  • If the living donor is a blood relative with a genetic match, the risk of rejection is decreased.
  • A kidney from a live donor typically works sooner than a kidney from a deceased person.
  • A kidney from a live donor may last longer than a kidney from a deceased person.
  • We offer laparoscopic donor surgeries, which often result in shorter hospital stays, less pain and faster recovery for living kidney donors.

Requirements to qualify as a donor

  • Be over 18 years of age.
  • Be in excellent medical and psychological health.
  • Be willing to donate without coercion, feeling forced, or offered a financial incentive to donate.
  • Not have any medical problems that could compromise the donor’s condition before donation, during donation or after donation.

Paired donation

Two hikers at sunset“Paired donation,” also known as a “swap” or “exchange,” provides more options for donors and recipients. Many living donors step forward to donate, but are not able to donate to their chosen recipient. Paired donation creates options for donor and recipient pairs, as they can participate in swaps resulting in more patients getting transplanted. Our program participates in national exchange programs as well as an internal program and conducts several successful transplants each year through paired donation.

Although there are risks associated with donating a kidney, most donors are able to live a normal life without any restrictions after kidney donation. On average, donors will permanently lose 25%–35% of kidney function at the time of donation. The risk of kidney disease after living kidney donation may exceed that of healthy non-donors with medical characteristics similar to living kidney donors.

In a living kidney donor surgery, the donor and the recipient are placed in side-by-side operating rooms. The donated kidney is removed—called a nephrectomy—and then immediately placed in the recipient in the next operating room. The donor is admitted to the hospital the same day the surgery is performed.

The hospital stay after donor surgery averages one to three days. If you reside outside of the Denver area, we will ask you to stay in the area for approximately one week after surgery. Most people are able to return to work after two to three weeks, depending on their recovery from surgery and the type of job they have. Donors with desk jobs may be able to return to work sooner than donors with physically demanding jobs.

Live donor liver transplantation is when a healthy person donates a portion of their liver to another person in need of a liver transplant. About 40% to 60% of a healthy person’s liver is removed and transplanted into an adult recipient after their original diseased liver is removed. Infants and small children require less liver volume.

The livers of both the donor and recipient will regenerate over the next several months to the size that their bodies need.

Choosing the option of live donation can:

  • Make a recipient’s wait for a transplant much shorter.
  • Give the recipient the chance to receive a transplant.
  • Allow options on the timing of a transplant.
  • Allow transplantation before the recipient becomes too sick.

Requirements to qualify as a donor

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 55.
  • Be in excellent medical and psychological health.
  • Be willing to donate without coercion, feeling forced, or offered a financial incentive to donate.
  • Have a compatible blood type with the recipient.

On average, live donor liver transplant recipients have outcomes as good as—and often better than—those of recipients of deceased donors. Also, live donor transplant recipients are 50% less likely to die waiting for a transplant, compared to those waiting for a deceased donor.

Live donor liver surgery

Two different teams will simultaneously work on the donor and recipient. During surgery, we will also remove your gallbladder. Live donor liver surgery typically takes four to six hours.

You can expect to stay in the hospital for four to six days after live donation, and if you live outside Denver, you will need to arrange to stay for an additional two to three weeks in the area. Recovery time varies, but by six to eight weeks your activity level will have increased, and most donors feel normal by 10-12 weeks.