Living Organ Donation

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Topic Overview

Introduction

More than 4,500 people in Canada are waiting for a life saving organ transplant. About half of all organ donors are living donors.

How can you be a living organ donor?

Most people can be organ donors. Many people choose to donate an organ upon their death. But a person can donate certain organs while he or she is still living. These people are called "living donors."

A living donor needs to be:

  • In good general health.
  • Free from diseases that can damage the organs, such as diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or cancer.
  • Older than age 18 (usually).
  • A blood match with the person receiving the organ (liver and lung donation).

To whom can you donate?

You can direct your donation to someone you know: a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a person that you know needs an organ. Other types of living kidney donation are available (e.g., paired exchange or anonymous donation).

What organs can you donate?

Living donors can donate the following:

  • A kidney
  • A lobe (part) of a lung
  • A lobe of your liver (It will grow back to normal size in your body and in the recipient's body over time.)

You can also donate bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells.

What's the process for being a living donor?

When you are a possible living donor, your rights and privacy are carefully protected. It's also very important to be informed about the risks of donating an organ.

Here are the steps for making a donation:

  • Contact your provincial health authority to locate the nearest transplant program.
  • Learn about the risks. Risks vary with the organ donated and from person to person.
  • Complete a medical evaluation that includes these tests:
    • Cross-match for transplant. This is a blood test that shows whether the recipient's body will reject your donor organ immediately. The cross-match will mix your blood with the recipient's blood to see if proteins in the recipient's blood might attack your donated organ.
    • Blood type. This is a blood test that shows which type of blood you have type A, B, O, or AB. Your blood type should be compatible with the organ recipient's blood type. But it is sometimes possible to transplant an organ between people with different blood types.
    • Tissue type. This is a blood test that shows the genetic makeup of your body's cells. We inherit three different kinds of genetic markers from our mothers and three from our fathers. Tissue type sometimes plays a role in matching an organ recipient to a donor.
    • A mental health assessment or social network evaluation. Many emotional issues are involved in donating an organ. A mental health assessment or social network evaluation may be done. These things look at your emotional health, your social support, and how donation would affect you and your family. They will also show if you understand your own interests, the future effects on your health, and whether you're feeling pressure to donate from another person or from a sense of obligation.
    • Comprehensive Medical Testing. This would include blood testing, urine samples, x-rays and other various testing.

Two types of surgery are commonly used to remove an organ or a portion of an organ from a living donor.

  • Open surgery involves cutting the skin, muscles, and tissues to remove the organ. When open surgery is done, the person may have more pain and a longer recovery time.
  • Laparoscopic surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon makes a number of small incisions and uses scopes to remove the organ from a living donor. This procedure is only available to living kidney donors.

Throughout the planning process, know that it's never too late to change your mind about donating an organ. Your long-term health is just as important as that of the person who will receive your donation.

The decision to become a living donor must be made voluntarily and free from pressure.

What are the facts about living organ donation?

You don't have to be in perfect health to donate an organ. A complete medical health history will be done by the living donor coordinator and medical director to ensure you are healthy enough to proceed with living donation.

Living organ donation can be risky for both the donor and the recipient. Removing an organ, or a part of an organ, from your body involves major surgery. There is always the risk of complications from surgery, such as pain, infection, pneumonia, bleeding, and even death. After the surgery you may face changes in your body from having removed one of your organs.

Living organ donation can be costly. Your medical expenses related to the transplant surgery will be paid for by your or the recipient's provincial health plan. But also think of your costs in terms of lost wages, child care, and possible medical problems in the future. Check with your insurance provider for more information about coverage.

Living organ donation is rewarding. After a successful transplant, most donors feel a special sense of well-being because they have saved a life.

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

Canadian Liver Foundation
www.liver.ca

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine

Current as ofAugust 14, 2016