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 www.organdonor.gov.
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?
How are potential donors evaluated?
Blood test to check for blood type compatibility
Urine test to look at kidney function
Diagnostic testing (X-ray, EKG, CAT scan, etc.)
What are the risks for donors?
High blood pressure
Reduced kidney function
What is the surgery like for donors?
How long does it take for a donor to recover?
Who pays for the surgery?
How does someone start the process to donate a kidney?
When Laura Fabish got her license renewed, she never elected to be an organ donor. “I never even considered it. I didn’t know anything about organ donation and it didn’t affect me. But now I think, ‘why not?’ You can’t take them with you when you go!” What changed her mind?
Her brother, only 38, was diagnosed with kidney disease in April 2015 and found out he was born with only 1 kidney. When he learned that he would need to start dialysis, he went in with a positive attitude. But sitting in the dialysis clinic was difficult. He was ready to fight but couldn’t do it alone.
Being a supportive sister, Laura, who didn’t know much about kidney disease, signed up for the NKFI Walk for Kidneys with her friend and their children. Laura says her five children and her brother’s children were all integral in keeping the family positive.
Wanting to do even more, Laura was tested and found out she was a match for living donation! On October 3, 2016, Laura gave her brother a kidney. After a couple months of recovery, they’re both doing great! They’re both thriving, active and Laura is able to do everything she could do before the surgery. Her brother says he never knew how bad he felt before until he got his new kidney. Laura credits her children with aiding in her recovery. “We made this decision as a family – the whole family – we all went through this together and we all stayed positive. I think if more people knew about kidney disease, they’d be willing to help and donate. We have two kidneys – why not share one? Two months of recovery is a small price to pay when you’re elongating someone’s life.”
Laura is participating in the 2017 Walk for Kidneys with her five children and her brother. She says there’s no better way to teach her children about sharing than leading by example.
When Donna Johnson was just 25, she was diagnosed with FSGS. Her nephrologist told her she would likely need a transplant within the next four to five years. Twenty-seven years later, her kidneys were finally ready for dialysis or a transplant. Since Donna is one of eight children, it made sense to search among her seven siblings for a suitable donor. Out of all seven siblings, none were a good match. Donna assumed she'd put her name on the Illinois transplant list and bide her time.
Enter her son Josh. Josh called Donna's hospital, St. Francis in Peoria, and began the testing process. He was a perfect match! Fortunately, Josh did not carry the FSGS gene and his children did not test positive for it, either so the transplant could proceed.
On June 27, 2011, Josh's right kidney became Donna's. The kidney started functioning immediately. A mere six to eight hours post surgery, Donna was up and visited Josh's recovery room. Josh says, "Her color was better, she was energetic. She was the mom from years ago."
"I didn't know how sick I was until I got my new kidney. Recovery was very uneventful!" Donna says, looking back on the diary she kept throughout her kidney journey. She followed up with her nephrologist every six months after the transplant and now sees her only once a year, "I'm my nephrologist's most boring patient now!"
Just six months after her transplant, Donna ran the Christie Clinic 5k in Champaign. Josh feels great, too. "Your life doesn't change at all [after donation] other than a scar. I just drink more water now to keep my remaining kidney healthy." The pair put together a Team Kidney team for the 5k this year and have worked hard to raise money and awareness around living donation and kidney health. "There are so many lives on the transplant list that could be saved by living donors. That's why we got custom license plates!" Donna and her son say their biggest hope is to inspire others to give and to take away the fear surrounding living donation by being living success stories.
Adam Doiron is a triathlete, Iron Man competitor and marathon runner. But he wasn't always this serious about his health.
In 2010, Adam started a new job where he met a colleague named Jen with whom he became close friends. Sadly, Jen was diagonosed with FSGS in her early 30s and needed dialysis. Wanting to get involved and support his friend, Adam signed up for the NKFI's Walk for Kidneys in 2013. He raised around $1500 that first year to increase awareness around the disease. On the walk, he met others living with kidney disease and found a new passion for advocacy.
Jen's health continued to decline and it became apparent that she needed a transplant. Her husband and several friends were tested and found that they were unable to donate. Knowing all this, Adam spent some quiet time in a cabin, unplugged from the world, thinking about his friend and her family. The answer became clear to him - he would give Jen his kidney. The only confirmation he needed was from his then girlfriend, now wife. After thinking for a few seconds, she encouraged him to give.
Adam registered to be a donor, sent in his test materials and found out he was a match! He asked Jen to lunch and told her the good news. On November 3, 2015, the two friends went into surgery and strengthened their bond with a living donation.
While he was tender the first few weeks after surgery, he was back to work within a week and back to normal life a few weeks later. Within a month, Adam was riding his bike and started joining his wife on runs. He participated in the Walk for Kidneys in 2016 with family and friends, this time raising almost $4,000! He ran his first marathon in the Twin cities and will run the 2017 Chicago marathon as part of TeamKidney. He's running half marathons with the top 5% of his age group - completing his latest half in 1:37:59 which is 20 minutes faster than his best time!! He'll complete a half Iron Man in May and a full Iron Man in July.
If you’re concerned about altering your lifestyle as a donor, know that you become more aware of what to do to keep your body healthy. I now dedicate a lot more time to keeping myself in good shape. Donating made me healthier! The emotional payback and good karma you'll receive is beyond unbelievable.
Meet Adam at the Walk for Kidneys or cheer him on at the Shamrock Shuffle and Chicago Marathon as part of TeamKidney.
City: Chicago, IL
Donation Date: September 29, 2016
His Story: Nearly a decade ago, Vikas’ younger brother Kunal was diagnosed with end stage renal disease. At the time, he and his family were not familiar with the disease. In the years since, they have become advocates, fighting to end kidney disease. When Kunal needed a transplant in 2008, their mother was a match and donated her kidney. On September 29, 2016 when another transplant was needed, Vikas volunteered but learned he was not a match. Happily, he was able to donate his kidney as part of a shared kidney exchange, saving even more lives!
Vikas says, “The organ donation has had a huge positive impact on my life. The whole process has truly shown me the meaning of the ‘gift of life.’ I have met so many courageous people fighting so hard to live a normal, healthy life. I now look forward to being part of a strong community of living donors. As a married father with three young children, I hope to set an example that will make them proud.”
Pictured l-r: Vikas and Kunal's father, Vikas, Kunal, older brother Vipin
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.