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Living Organ Donation: Answers from Transplantation Expert Andrew Cameron

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Nearly 124,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States. A living donor can eliminate the need for a recipient to be added to the national waiting list.


Andrew Cameron, M.D., Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins transplantation expert, answers frequently asked questions about live organ donation:

Q: Who can become a living donor?

A: Living donors can be relatives, friends, neighbors, in-laws or altruistic strangers (individuals who wish to donate to an unknown recipient purely out of selfless motives). Living donors must be at least 18 years old, in good physical and mental health, and must have a body mass index that is less than 35.

Q: What can I donate?

A: As a living donor, you can donate one of your kidneys and part of your liver.

Q: What are the risks and recovery for a living organ donor?

A: Just like with any other major surgery, there are risks and a period of critical recovery time for transplantation surgery. For kidney donors, the remaining kidney will enlarge slightly because it has to do the work of two healthy kidneys. For liver donors, the liver regenerates and regains full function. The recovery time after surgery is typically six to eight weeks. Living donation does not change life expectancy. Most donors go on to live healthy lives after recovering from the surgery. Specific donor-related risks should be discussed with your transplant team.

Q: Can I donate my organs if I have a medical condition?

A: Possibly. Most people can donate, but there are a few exclusions, such as HIV, active cancer and systemic infection. Your doctors will evaluate your medical condition and the condition of your organs to determine if you are qualified to be a living organ donor.

Q: Who pays for the cost of an organ donation?

A: In most cases, the transplant recipient’s private health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid will pay for the donor’s initial evaluation, surgery and postoperative care. 

Q: Can non-U.S. citizens donate organs?

A: Yes. Non-U.S. citizens can receive and donate organs in the United States.

Q: Can I sell my organs?

A: All live kidney and liver donations must be a completely voluntary decision. Donors should be free from any pressure or guilt associated with the donation, and they cannot be paid for their donation. In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act, which makes it illegal to buy or sell organs.

#TomorrowsDiscoveries: Using Technology to find Organ Donors– Andrew Cameron, M.D., Ph.D.

Andrew Cameron, a liver transplant surgeon, recognizes that many people wait on the transplant list. He and his team worked with Facebook to allow people to show their friends they are registered organ donors. The initiative tremendously increased donor registration rates. Dr. Cameron’s team is now working on an app to help patients identify a living donor.

Q: How can I become a donor?

A: If you are interested in donating a kidney to someone in need, please call 410-614-9345 or register online. If you are interested in donating a liver to someone in need, please call 410-614-2989.

Living Kidney Donation: Sam and John Cosby's Story

Sam Cosby was in his early 20s when he was diagnosed with renal failure (kidney failure) and was in need of a kidney transplant. His father, John, offered to donate one of his kidneys in a paired donation program to provide a transplant for his son. A paired kidney exchange, or kidney paired donation, is also known as a kidney swap. It occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with the recipient, who exchanges kidneys with another donor/recipient pair.

Pamela Paulk's Kidney Donation at Johns Hopkins Medicine

Kidney donation transforms the lives of two Johns Hopkins co-workers.

Living Kidney Donor Surgery | Q&A

Transplant surgeon Dorry Segev discusses the kidney transplant waiting list, living kidney donors, surgery, recovery and the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center.

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