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For Patients & Families: Be an Organ Donor

be an
organ donor

At any given time, over 100,000 Americans are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Of those, more than 95,000 need a kidney, but just over 19,000 people receive one each year. And because so few Americans register to become organ donors, every day, 12 people die waiting for a kidney.


When you make the decision to become an organ donor, you are giving families the most extraordinary gift imaginable: the gift of life. 


If you are considering becoming a kidney donor, you have two options. 


  • You can donate a kidney after your life has ended - a gift commonly referred to as a deceased donation.

  • You can give the gift of life right now by giving a kidney today, and becoming a living donor.

The above data is approximate, based on data provided by OPTN

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Become a Deceased Donor


If you're an Illinois resident, registering to give organs and/or tissue once your life has ended is easy.


  • Simply visit the Illinois LifeGoesOn website and fill out the required information. You will then be enrolled in the state's online donor database.


  • You can also declare your intentions on your driver's license.

Become a Living Donor 


There are several paths you can take to become a living donor:


  • If you are donating to someone you know: you should contact the transplant center where the patient is listed and coordinate directly with their care team.


  • If you would like to donate to an anonymous recipient: you may do so by contacting a local Transplant Center. For information on Illinois transplant centers, please click below.


  • You can also donate anonymously by: enrolling with the National Kidney Registry, an organization that works to match donors with patients nation-wide.


being a living donor: fast facts

learn more about giving

Deciding to give a kidney, an organ, and/or tissue after your life has ended is, in some respects, a relatively straight-forward prospect. But there can be numerous factors at play in the decision to donate a kidney now, and become a living donor.


As you contemplate becoming a living donor, the following facts may help you construct your plan.  Please notemany of the items below include links for more information; these will take you to our national office's Kidney A - Z Health Guide.

  • Why are the kidneys so important?
    Your kidneys perform important functions that affect every part of your body. In fact, many other organs depend upon the kidneys to function normally. The kidneys perform complicated jobs that keep the rest of the body in balance. When the kidneys become damaged, your body’s other organs are affected as well. The major job of the kidneys is to remove waste products and extra fluids from the body in the form of urine. The production of urine is a complicated process that maintains a chemical balance in your body. Your kidneys also regulate your body’s salt, potassium and acid content, and make hormones that affect the way your other organs function. One hormone produced by the kidneys is needed to make red blood cells. Others help regulate your blood pressure and help your body use calcium. Your kidneys also: Remove waste products from your body Balance chemicals in your body, such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sodium Balance your body’s fluids Regulate your blood pressure Promote strong, healthy bones
  • How do your kidneys work / function?
    Each of your two kidneys contains about one million functioning units called nephrons. A nephron consists of a filtering unit of tiny blood vessels, called a glomerulus, which is attached to a tubule. When blood enters the glomerulus, it is filtered and the remaining fluid then passes through the tubule. In the tubule, chemicals and water are either added to or removed from this filtered fluid according to the body's needs. The final product is urine, which we excrete. The kidneys perform their life-sustaining job of filtering and returning to the bloodstream about 200 quarts of fluid every 24 hours. Approximately two quarts are eliminated from the body in the form of urine, and about 198 quarts are retained in the body. The urine we excrete has been stored in the bladder anywhere from 1 to 8 hours.
  • What is chronic kidney disease?
    Chronic kidney disease (CKD) means the kidneys are damaged. When the kidneys are damaged, they cannot filter blood and do their other jobs well enough. Protein in the urine for three months or longer is a warning sign of kidney damage. Your level of kidney function is measured by the test for glomerular filtration rate (GFR). A GFR of less than 60 for three months or more indicates CKD.
  • What are some of the types and causes of kidney disease?
    There are many types of kidney disease, and it usually affects both kidneys. If the kidneys' ability to filter the blood is damaged by disease, wastes and excess fluid may build up in the body, causing severe swelling and symptoms of kidney failure. The kidneys may be affected by diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Some kidney diseases are inherited Other diseases are congenital; that is, individuals may be born with an abnormality that can affect their kidneys. The following are some of the most common types and causes of kidney disease: Diabetes is the leading cause of serious kidney disease. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is another common cause of kidney disease. Glomerulonephritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the kidney's tiny filtering units, the glomeruli. Polycystic kidney disease is the most common inherited kidney disease. Kidney stones are a common kidney malady that can cause further damage to the kidneys if they are not treated. Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and cause symptoms such as pain and/or burning during urination and more frequent need to urinate. Congenital diseases such as Goodpasture's Syndrome and Reflux Disorder may also affect the kidneys. Overuse of over-the-counter medications and the use and buildup of illegal drugs in the body can cause kidney failure. To learn more about kidney disease, please click here.
  • How is kidney disease detected?
    Early detection and treatment can slow or prevent the progression of kidney disease. Some simple tests can be done to detect early kidney disease. They are: Blood pressure monitoring. High blood pressure is a cause of kidney disease. It may also be a sign of kidney trouble. A test for protein in the urine. Too much protein in your urine may mean that your kidneys’ filtering units have been damaged. A single positive result could be due to a fever or heavy exercise, so your doctor will want to confirm your urine protein test results over several weeks. An estimate of your Glomerular Filtraion Rate (GFR) to show how much kidney function you have. Your doctor uses the results of a blood test, along with your age, gender, and race, to estimate your GFR number. This number tells your doctor how much kidney function you have. As CKD progresses, your GFR number decreases. A completely healthy kidey function is measured at a GFR of around a 100, which means that the kidneys are working at 100 percent. Your kidney function is still considered normal if the GFR number is 90 or greater. Here's a way to understand the GFR scale: If your GFR is 45, you know that your kidneys are working at approximately 45 percent of the normal rate. It is very important that people who are at increased risk for kidney disease have these tests.
  • Can kidney desease be treated?
    Many kidney diseases can be treated. Careful control of diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure can help to prevent kidney disease or slow its progression. Kidney stones and urinary tract infections often can be treated successfully. Unfortunately, the exact causes of some kidney diseases are still unknown, and specific treatments are not yet available. Sometimes these diseases progress to chronic kidney failure, requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation. Changes in diet and treatment for high blood pressure sometimes help to slow the progression of these diseases. Research is being conducted to find more effective treatment for these diseases.
  • If I have chronic kidney disease, do I need dialysis?"
    Ultimately, dialysis is treatment option that is entirely up to the patient. Normally, dialysis is not considered as a treatment option unless a patient is expereincing end-stage kidney failure (which usually occurs when a patient loses about 85 to 90 percent of their kidney function, and they have a GFR of less than 15). If you are not in end-stage kidney failure, your physician will likely work to slow, or control, the cause of your kidney disease. Treatment options vary, depending on the cause. But kidney damage can continue to worsen even when an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, has been controlled. Your doctor will likely also work to treat any complications that arise from kidney disease. Treatments may include: High blood pressure medications Medications to lower cholesterol levels Medications to treat anemia Medications to relieve swelling Medications to protect your bones A lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood
Fast Facts

the big ask, the big give

a conversation can save a life

Big Ask, Big Give

The NKFI is proud to support The Big Ask, The Big Give, a patient service initiative managed by our national office focused on connecting kidney patients and potential organ donors with resources, information, and tangible support.


Too many people languish on the years-long kidney waitlist and don't get transplants simply because they don't know how to ask their friends, loved ones, or communities for help. The Big Ask, The Big Give aims to help patients begin that conversation, and find living donors.


Visit the Big Ask, Big Give website to learn more about living kidney donations, hear stories from people whose lives have been transformed by transplants, and connect with information specialists.


Need help starting the conversation?

Call our national office's patient hotline, NKF Cares:


1 (855) 653 - 2273

NKF Cares is a free, confidential hotline with trained professionals

ready to answer your questions or concerns

NKFI kidney health resources

The information shared on this website has been reviewed by staff at the New York City headquarters of the National Kidney Foundation. Please note: material contained here are intended solely for reference. This material does not constitute medical advice; it is intended for informational purposes only. If you feel you need professional medical care, please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.

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