How do we know a donated kidney is healthy?
Before organs from deceased donors are used for transplant, they are tested for disease and to make sure they are healthy. But even when a kidney seems healthy enough to be transplanted, there is still a small risk that a donor kidney carries a disease.
This is why the organ donor team (the team that cares for the donor) tries to find out as much information about the deceased donor before a transplant takes place. They collect information about the donor’s health history and lifestyle by looking at their medical chart and talking to people who knew the donor well. In some cases, there may not be anyone close to the donor to talk to. When this happens, the transplant carries more risks because of the lack of information about the donor.
If you are offered a kidney from a deceased donor, this means that the transplant team feels the risk of developing a disease is less than the risk of you waiting longer on dialysis for another offer.
Why don’t we know all the risks?
The reason we don’t know all the risks for a donated kidney is that not all infectious diseases show up in testing right away. If someone was in contact with an infectious disease right before they died and donated their organs, tests that check for diseases may be negative (don’t show there is disease).
For example, infectious diseases like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can be negative when testing is done soon after contact with the disease. This is why the organ donor team tries to find out as much information about the donor as they can. This helps them decide if a person’s medical history or lifestyle raises their level of risk of carrying an infectious disease, even if they test negative for it.
When you are waiting for a kidney transplant it’s a good idea to start thinking about:
- Are you willing to accept a kidney when there is a small risk of getting a disease?
- What are you willing to accept and not accept about a donated kidney?
- What questions you want to ask the transplant doctor at the time of the offer.
Even though there is a small risk of getting an infectious disease from a donated kidney, most infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, can be treated or cured.