Organ Donation

Organ Donation: How does it work?

The animated video below explains the transplant waiting list, how someone becomes a donor, the process of matching organs, and signing up to share the gift of life. For more information, please continue reading about living and deceased donation, below, and visit


The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois is a proud member of the Donate Life Illinois Coalition, a network of organizations that work together to promote organ, tissue and eye donation in our state.


For more information on becoming an organ donor, please continue reading about living and deceased donation:

A living donor is a person who gives one of their organs to another person while they are still alive.

A person can donate a kidney, part of their liver, part of their lungs, blood and bone marrow while still living.  Living kidney donation is a common option for people in need of kidney transplants.  In fact, about half of all transplanted kidneys come from living donors.

For more information on living kidney donation, please read the commonly asked questions below, then download this brochure for more in-depth responses from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Who can donate a kidney?

A potential donor must be physically fit and in good health.  This means they do not have any major health complications including diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease or cancer.  Usually kidney donors are related to the recipient, but they can also be spouses, friends, coworkers or even strangers.

How are potential donors evaluated?

Living donors go through a rigorous evaluation process to make sure that they are healthy enough to undergo the donation surgery and live a normal, healthy life afterward.  This evaluation usually includes:
  • Blood test to check for blood type compatibility
  • Urine test to look at kidney function
  • Diagnostic testing (X-ray, EKG, CAT scan, etc.)
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Financial discussions

What are the risks for donors?

Donation surgery is major surgery, so there are inherently risks, but they are not common.  The risk of dying in surgery is less than 1%.  The most common risks during or directly after surgery are:
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Lung collapse
Long-term risks to donors can include:
  • High blood pressure
  • Proteinuria
  • Reduced kidney function

What is the surgery like for donors?

Living donation surgery can either be open or laporoscopic.  The type of surgery depends on the donor and the transplant team performing the operation.  Typically, laporoscopic surgery leaves a smaller scar and there is a lower chance of infection.  It can vary, but donation surgery usually lasts 3-5 hours. 

How long does it take for a donor to recover?

This depends on the donor and type of surgery done, but usually a kidney donor stays in the hospital 1-3 days after surgery and then can expect to recover at home for 2-4 weeks.  Donors should not lift heavy things or put strain on their bodies for at least 4 weeks. 

Who pays for the surgery?

In most cases, the recipient’s insurance covers the costs of the living donor evaluation, surgery and any related complications.  This includes government insurance like Medicare.  Living donors do, however, have to cover the costs of transportation, meals and lodging if they don’t live near the transplant hospital. They also may lose out on wages during their recovery if they do not have paid time off from work to donate.

How does someone start the process to donate a kidney?

If the potential donor has someone they’d like to donate to a family member or friend, they should contact the transplant center where that patient is listed.  If the potential donor does not have a recipient in mind and just wants to give a kidney to anyone who needs it, he/she can contact any local transplant center to start the process.

Donor Profiles

  • Sheila Williams

  • Laura Fabish

  • Josh Johnson

  • Adam Doiron

A deceased donor is someone who donates their organs, tissue or eyes to be used for transplantation after they’ve died.

Fast Facts about Organ Donation

  • More than 110,000 people are waiting for life-saving organ transplants in the U.S.
  • More than 4,000 people in Illinois are waiting for kidney transplants. 
  • 18 people die every day because the organ they needed did not come in time.
  • Another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.
  • One donor can save or improve the lives of 25 people.