Kidney Transplantation Living Donors
Living Donor Program
The Organ Transplant Center is a leader in living donor transplant surgery. Our transplant physicians and nurses have performed more than 3,000 living donor kidney transplants.
In 2022, Northwestern Memorial Hospital was one of the top ten living donor kidney transplant programs in the country, performing 85 such 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.
In 2022, Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed 7 adult living donor liver transplants, making ours one of the largest living donor liver programs in the midwest.
Those who agree to be a living donor do so as a volunteer and 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. Potential donors must be in relatively good health, both physically and emotionally, and over the age of 18.
All potential living donors must:
- Be in good health
- 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 their reasons for donating once they are aware of all of the benefits and risks
An increasingly popular form of living donation is called altruistic, non‐directed organ donation, in which people donate organs as a humanitarian gesture, without a specific recipient in mind.
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.
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 are incompatible. 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. Now, there are two options: 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.
Northwestern Medicine 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 me 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, a shorter hospital stay and return to normal life much faster than those who undergo the more traditional “open” procedure. Bear in mind that this is s ll a major surgery and there are some risks involved.
About 90 percent of all transplanted kidneys still function one year after a transplant. We will provide you with the Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s most recent results 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, as well as from all other transplant centers in the United States. This database is updated every six months.