Giving the gift of life to someone in need is a courageous, generous act. At Boston Medical Center, we believe living kidney donors are true heroes. We also understand that the decision to become a living donor is a personal one, with internal motivations unique to each individual. 

For more information about living donation, download BMC’s guide, The Gift of Life. It provides more in-depth information about becoming a living donor. 

Below are answers to common questions from donors that we hope will help you make the best decision for yourself and your family.

Why should I become a living kidney donor?  

A living donor transplant has many benefits over a deceased donor kidney transplant. These benefits include:  

  • A kidney from a living donor has a much higher success rate.  
  • A kidney from a living donor generally starts to work right after transplant. A kidney from a deceased donor might take several days or weeks to function normally.  
  • A kidney from a living donor lasts longer and can lead to a longer lifespan for the recipient, compared to those who receive a kidney transplant from a deceased donor.  
  • The living donor transplant can be scheduled. This allows the recipient and donor to plan for surgery. Recipients will not know when a deceased donor kidney will be available, and surgery must be performed very soon after it is available.  
  • There may be a reduced risk of rejection, especially if the kidney is donated by a blood relative.  
  • A living donor transplant usually shortens the amount of time a recipient waits to receive a kidney transplant and gets the patient off dialysis sooner. Recipients on the transplant waitlist can wait up to eight years or more for a deceased donor kidney transplant. 
  • Because the recipient of a live donor kidney is removed from the national transplant waiting list, the next patient on the list moves up the list. Therefore, the donor is directly and indirectly giving the gift of life to more than one person.  
  • Many donors feel a great emotional benefit in giving the gift of transplant to a loved one or friend. Transplants can improve the recipient’s quality of life, allowing them to return to normal activities. 
Who can be a living donor? 

A donor can be a family member, distant relative, friend, or co-worker. You do not have to be a “blood relative” of the recipient. You can also donate a kidney to someone in need who you don’t know. This is called an “altruistic” or “good Samaritan” donation. To be a living donor, you must meet these basic guidelines: 

  • 18 to 65 years old 
  • Healthy and not have any chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or other serious medical conditions 
  • Willing to donate of your own free will without outside pressure 
  • Understand the risks and possible complications of kidney donation  
  • In a stable life situation and have family or social support (separate from the recipient’s support) to help you during recovery. 
How would I be evaluated to be a living donor? 

All potential living kidney donors go through a very thorough evaluation process before they are accepted as a donor. This includes interviews and examinations with several specialists. 

I have some concerns. Can you answer them?  

Potential living donors often have many questions and concerns. Here are some of the most common:  

Health issues: Having one kidney does not affect life expectancy. Donors can have children, work, and exercise. There are no restrictions on what you can do, but we encourage donors to commit to living a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives. In addition, the risk of kidney failure after donating a kidney is very rare. In fact, less than one percent of donors face this situation 15 years after their donation. If you do need a kidney in the future, you will be prioritized on the kidney transplant list for having previously donated a kidney.  

Effect on relationship with recipient: When the transplant is successful, this tends to have a positive impact on your relationship with the recipient. If there are complications or the transplant fails, this could have a negative impact on your relationship. And if you decide not to donate or are not eligible to donate for any reason, this could affect your relationship. We encourage all living donors to talk with their recipient directly about their decision and feelings. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can always talk with the living-donor advocate or social worker. Our team will never discuss any information about donors with recipients or the recipient’s family.  

Scars: Boston Medical Center offers a surgical technique called “laparoscopic nephrectomy with hand assist.” This surgery uses small incisions and results in less scarring and a shorter recovery time. Some donors consider this small scar their “badge of honor” for being a live donor.  

Family planning: Many female donors have gone on to have normal pregnancies after kidney donation. We do advise waiting at least one year after donation, so your body has plenty of time to heal. If you do become pregnant, make sure your obstetrician or gynecologist knows you donated a kidney.  

Time off: Your recovery time will depend on how well your body reacts to the surgery. We usually advise planning for a four- to six-week recovery before returning to your job. Transplant surgery can be scheduled at your convenience, making it easier to plan.  

Who pays for my medical care? 

All of your medical bills related to your donation, from testing through surgery and post-operative care, should be covered by the kidney recipient’s health insurance. Some expenses may not be covered, such as travel and lost wages because of time off from work. Our financial services team can help guide you through the process and connect you with the many resources available to kidney donors. 

What if I’m not a match? 

If you are not a match with your recipient, you may still have the option to give through BMC’s paired exchange or kidney swap program. Through these programs, you may be able to save two or more lives. 

Once I decide to donate, can I change my mind?  

Being living a donor is not for everyone, and we will support and respect your decision at any point during the process no matter what you decide. 

You have the right to change your mind about being a living donor at any time. Your reasons for doing so will remain confidential.  

If you decide not to become a donor, but you still want to help, you can be an advocate and help spread the word with family and friends about kidney donation.  

What if I still have questions? 

Our goal is to make sure that all living donors can ask questions at any time during their journey, to provide any help possible, and to create a relationship where the donor feels comfortable and unpressured. The donor coordinators at Boston Medical Center are available to answer any questions you may have. You can contact us at: 

As a potential kidney donor, you will also have an independent living donor advocate (ILDA) available to you throughout the process. ILDAs are advocates for the donor and purposefully work outside of the transplant team to ensure that there is no bias during a donor candidate evaluation. They can answer any questions or address any concerns you may have about the transplant process.  

Interest in becoming a donor? Take the first step by filling out the Living Kidney Donor Questionnaire