Living Kidney Donors

Kidney Transplantation Living Donors

Living Donor Program

The Northwestern Medicine Organ Transplant Center is a leader in living donor transplant surgery. The Organ Transplant Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is home to the largest liver and kidney transplant program in Illinois. Northwestern Memorial Hospital has one of the largest living-donor organ transplant programs in the Midwest and is top 10 in the country, having performed more than 3,000 living donor kidney transplants.

The benefits of living donor kidney transplants are well‐documented; the kidneys from living donors have longer graft survival rates, function better and have fewer complications than kidneys from deceased donors.

Those who agree to be a living donor do so as a volunteer and often find great reward in saving a life.

Who can be a living donor?

A living donor can be a blood‐related family member or a non‐blood‐related individual, such as a spouse, friend or acquaintance. You can also donate without a specific recipient in mind. This increasingly popular form of living donation is called altruistic, non‐directed organ donation, in which people donate organs as a humanitarian gesture. These organs are distributed to patients on the Northwestern Medicine list using the UNOS priority system or as part of a kidney paired donation. The goal of the Northwestern Medicine Living Donor Kidney Program is to make every effort to ensure that a transplant takes place when a medically viable living donor steps forward.

To be a living donor, you must:

  • Be over age 18
  • Be in good health, both physically and emotionally
  • Undergo a thorough evaluation process
  • Understand and accept the surgery and its risks, including medical, psychosocial and financial implications
  • Volunteer to be a transplant donor
  • Understand and accept that the outcome of the transplant might not be as expected
  • Be able tell the team clearly your reasons for donating once you are aware of all of the benefits and risks

What if you are not a match with the transplant recipient?

Blood type and immune incompatibility – Approximately one‐third of living donors who come forward are not matches for their intended recipient because their blood type and immune system do not match. Most blood types form antibodies against the other blood types, meaning most patients cannot get blood transfusions or organ transplants from donors with blood types different from their own.

In the past, a blood type or immune system difference would have ruled out a donor and recipient pair. Thanks to medical advances, new options are available in these cases: desensitization treatment and kidney paired donation.

  • Desensitization treatment: The Organ Transplant Center is one of only a handful of centers in the country offering desensitization treatment. This treatment allows the donor’s kidney to be placed in the intended recipient. A week or two before surgery and a week or two after the transplant, these patients undergo a variety of treatments that help make antibodies compatible. Typically, three to five treatments are required before transplant. Long‐term outcomes of kidney transplants following desensitization have been excellent and comparable to compatible donor transplants.
  • Kidney paired donation: Another option for donor and recipient pairs who aren’t compatible is kidney paired donation (KPD). KPD transplants are made possible when a kidney donor who is incompatible with the intended recipient is paired with another donor and recipient in the same situation.

    The Organ Transplant Center has performed more than 200 KPD surgeries to date, the largest of them being an eight‐way paired exchange that involved eight donors and eight recipients. KPD exchanges are becoming more common and signal a trend in the field of organ transplantation. They have the potential to dramatically increase the number of patients who receive transplants, and reduce or eliminate time spent on the waiting list.

What does the kidney transplant surgery involve?

When a living person donates a kidney, the donor and recipient surgeries are done on the same day. The operation performed to remove the healthy kidney from the donor is called a nephrectomy. These surgeries are done using a laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, approach. Patients undergoing laparoscopic kidney removal have significantly less pain and a shorter hospital stay, and return to normal life much faster than those who undergo the more traditional “open” procedure. This is still a major surgery that carries some risks.


About 90% of all transplanted kidneys still function one year after a transplant. We will provide you with the most recent results at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as listed in the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR). You also can go to the SRTR website to view results from Northwestern Memorial Hospital and all other transplant centers in the United States. This database is updated every six months.

Related Resources


External Websites

  • American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP) : AAKP helps kidney patients and their families manage the emotional and social impact of kidney disease.
  • American Kidney Fund : This fund provides direct financial assistance to kidney patients in need and education for those with and at risk for kidney disease.
  • Atlas of Diseases of the Kidney : The online edition from ISN Informatics Commission and NKF Cyber‐Nephrology provides information on kidney disease, treatment and research, including books and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Coalition on Donation This organization promotes and provides education about organ donation.
  • Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network : This nonprofit works with hospitals and donor families in the northern three‐fourths of Illinois and northwest Indiana. It focuses on recovery of organs and tissue for medical transplantation in the service area, as well as for professional and public education on organ and tissue donation.
  • Home Dialysis Central : Home Dialysis Central educates kidney patients about home dialysis.
  • Kidney School : This interactive, web‐based learning program is designed to help people learn about kidney disease and its treatments, so they can take a more active role in their care.
  • Life Options This program of research, research‐based education, and outreach helps people live long and well with kidney disease.
  • MedlinePlus : This is a trusted source that covers all aspects of organ donation and provides easy access to medical journal articles, extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and the latest health news.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases : Part of the National Institutes of Health, this organization is involved in kidney disease research and treatment options.
  • National Kidney Foundation (NKF) : This foundation has 50 affiliates dedicated to providing prevention programs, educational services, and materials for kidney patients, transplant recipients, and communities. NKF Affiliates: Illinois , Indiana , Ohio 
  • National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is building a national community of organ sharing to ease the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors.
  • Nephron Information Center : This site includes information and educational links about kidney disease.
  • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) : OPTN is a unique public‐private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system. Its goals are to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation and the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation (PKD) : PKD Foundation’s mission is to promote research to find a cure for PKD, and improve the care and treatment of those it affects.
  • The Renal Network 9/10 : This network empowers optimal wellness for renal disease patients. 
  • Transplant Living : This is the United Network for Organ Sharing patient education site for all transplant patients.
  • Transplant Village: Giving Back to Northwestern Medicine : Transplant Village is a community of organ recipients, donors and family members who have had their lives touched and changed by the Northwestern Medicine Organ Transplant Center. With efforts managed by the Northwestern Medicine Transplant Advisory Council, this group has come together to create a network of resources and support and to raise funds for research and patient care at our affiliated hospitals.
  • TransWeb : TransWeb’s mission is to offer information about donation and transplantation to the general public. It promotes organ donation and provides transplant families with information specifically about transplant issues.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) : Through the UNOS Organ Center, organ donors are matched to waiting recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Through its policies, UNOS ensures that all patients have a fair chance at receiving the organ they need—regardless of age, sex, race, lifestyle, religion, or financial or social status. UNOS members include every transplant program, organ procurement organization, and tissue typing laboratory in the United States.
  • U.S. Transplant—Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) : The SRTR supports the ongoing evaluation of the scientific and clinical status of solid organ transplantation in the United States.
  • Worldwide Kidney Disease Community : This online resource brings together people with kidney disease, in a worldwide community dedicated to improving patient quality of life.

Support groups

The following associations offer support groups to help patients and their families through transplantation: