For Patients & Families: Be an Organ Donor

be an

organ donor

overview of kidney donation

give the gift of a second chance


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.

What is living donation?

Living donation takes place when a living person donates an organ (or part of an organ) for transplantation to another person. The living donor can be a family member, such as a parent, child, brother or sister (living related donation). Living donation can also come from someone who is emotionally related to the recipient, such as a good friend, spouse or an in-law (living unrelated donation). Thanks to improved medications, a genetic link between the donor and recipient is no longer required to ensure a successful transplant. In some cases, living donation may even be from a stranger, which is called anonymous or non-directed donation. Learn More About Living Donation

Who can be a living kidney donor?

To donate a kidney, you must be in good physical and mental health. As a general rule, you should be 18 years or older. You must also have normal kidney function. There are some medical conditions that could prevent you from being a living donor. These include:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Acute infections
  • Having a serious mental health condition that requires treatment may also prevent you from being a donor
To learn more, please click here.

What are the advantages of living donation over deceased donation?

Kidney transplants performed from living donors may have several advantages compared to transplants performed from deceased donors:

  • Some living donor transplants are done between family members who are genetically similar. A better genetic match lessens the risk of rejection.
  • A kidney from a living donor usually functions immediately, because the kidney is out of the body for a very short time. Some deceased donor kidneys do not function immediately, and as a result, the patient may require dialysis until the kidney starts to function.
  • Potential donors can be tested ahead of time to find the donor who is most compatible with the recipient. The transplant can take place at a time convenient for both the donor and recipient.

Are there different types of living donation?

There are two main types of living donation: Directed donation This is when the donor names a specific person who will receive the kidney.It is the most common type of living donation.Directed donations are often between blood relatives, like parents, siblings, or children.They can also occur between people with close personal relationships, such as a spouse, friend, or coworker. Nondirected donation This is when a person does not name a specific person who will get the kidney. In this case, the donor is matched with someone in need.

Are transplants from living donors always successful?

Although transplantation is highly successful, and success rates continue to improve, problems may occur. Sometimes, the kidney is lost to rejection, surgical complications or the original disease that caused the recipient's kidney to fail. Talk to the transplant center staff about their success rates and the national success rates.

How long does a transplanted kidney last?

On average, a kidney from a living donor lasts about 15 to 20 years. Some will last longer. For comparison: the average transplanted kidney from a deceased donor lasts approximately 12 years.

What do I need to consider before donating an organ?

When you donate an organ to someone else, you are providing a life-sustaining gift. But there are many things you should consider carefully before you make the decision to become a living donor. You will need to consider your overall health, and whether you have any medical problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. You will also need to consider any effects donation might have on you, your spouse, your children, or other family members. Your finances are also important, such as time lost from work and travel expenses. In short, giving an organ to someone else means being ready to face some emotional, physical, and financial challenges. You should think about all of these things carefully and make sure you are willing and ready to donate. Questions to ask as you consider living donation

Who pays for living donation?

Generally, the recipient's Medicare or private health insurance will pay for the following for the donor (if the donation is to a family member or friend). Donors should always coordinate their tests with the transplant coordinator at the hospital in case there are any exceptions:

  • Evaluation to determine if the person is a good candidate for living donation
  • Donation surgery
  • Post-operative care
However, the following expenses generally wouldn't be paid by either the recipient or the donor's insurance:
  • Lost wages during the donor's recovery. Time off from work is not covered by Medicare or private insurance. However, donors may be eligible for sick leave, state disability and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Travel expenses. If you are traveling to a transplant hospital away from home, you can incur expenses for travel, lodging expenses during evaluation and recovery, phone calls to home, childcare, etc. Some transplant hospitals offer free or low-cost hospitality houses for you and your family–be sure to ask about your options.
  • Expenses for treatment of unrelated conditions that are discovered during the evaluation process
  • Some follow-up expenses may also not be covered, so it's important to discuss these matters with the transplant center. The financial counselor and/or transplant social worker at the hospital can answer any questions you have about the cost of donation.

Will my health or life insurance coverage be affected by donation?

Your health insurance should not be affected by donation. The Affordable Care Act has made it illegal for health insurance companies to refuse to cover you or charge you more because you have a pre-existing condition. However, some living donors have reported either having difficulty getting life insurance or facing higher premiums for life insurance. In such cases, it may be necessary for transplant centers to inform the insurance carrier of existing data that report that the patient is not at increased risk of death because of donation. If you already have insurance, check your insurance contracts carefully to see if living donation would affect your current policies. You might also want to consult with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about insurance law. If you are considering donation, talk to the financial counselor and social worker at the transplant center to find out if donation will affect your health or life insurance coverage. It is important for potential donors to carefully consider these issues before proceeding with donation. You may also be able to acquire life insurance through the Living Organ Donor Network, which offers an option to donors to purchase life, disability and medical insurance for complications which might arise from being a kidney donor. The insurance is optional for transplant centers that participate in the Living Organ Donor Network data registry program as well as for individuals that may wish to benefit from this protection. For information on how to participate or find kidney transplant programs that participate contact Arlene Skinner at AFDT by phone at (800) - 543 - 6399 or by email at

What does the surgery involve?

In general, you will be given a general anesthetic in the operating room. You will be asleep and will not feel any pain during the surgery. In most cases, you and your recipient will be in adjacent operating rooms. One of your kidneys will be carefully removed and transplanted in the recipient. Typically, the surgery takes 3–5 hours with time in the recovery room afterward for observation. Removing your kidney may be done by laparoscopy or open surgery. The surgery to remove a kidney is called a “nephrectomy.” Learn more about the surgery.

If I'm a donor, what is my post-surgery recovery time?

The length of stay in the hospital will vary depending on the individual donor's rate of recovery and the type of procedure performed (traditional vs laparoscopic kidney removal) although the usual stay is 4 to 6 days. Since the rate of recovery varies greatly among individuals, be sure to ask the transplant center for their estimate of your particular recovery time. After leaving the hospital, the donor will typically feel tenderness, itching and some pain as the incision continues to heal. Generally, heavy lifting is not recommended for about six weeks following surgery. It is also recommended that donors avoid contact sports where the remaining kidney could be injured. It is important for the donor to speak with the transplant staff about the best ways to return as quickly as possible to being physically fit.

How will donating a kidney affect my life and health?

People can live normal lives with only one kidney. As long as the donor is evaluated thoroughly and cleared for donation, he or she can lead a normal life after the surgery. When the kidney is removed, the single normal kidney will increase in size to compensate for the loss of the donated kidney. Physical exercise is healthy and good for you. However, it's important for someone with only one kidney to be careful and protect it from injury. Some doctors think it is best to avoid contact sports like football, boxing, hockey, soccer, martial arts, or wrestling. Wearing protective gear such as padded vests under clothing can help protect the kidney from injury during sports. This can help lessen the risk, but it won't take away the risk. Talk to your healthcare provider if you want to join in contact sports. Donors are encouraged to have good long-term medical follow-up with their primary care doctors. A urine test, a blood pressure check and a blood test for kidney function (GFR) should be done every year. Learn more about living with one kidney


the big ask, the big give

a conversation can save a life


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.