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Donor Search Tip: Don’t Rule Out Anyone as a Living Kidney Donor

EJ Tamez

When you are searching for a living kidney donor, it can be tempting to look for a “perfect” donor—someone who is young and healthy with the same or a compatible blood type as you. In fact, many people who don’t look like “perfect” donors on paper actually make excellent donors, so it’s important to never rule someone out.

There are many reasons you might think someone would not be able to be your donor. Maybe they are older, have minor health problems or can’t afford to take time off work. In many cases, there are easy solutions to those problems.

The National Kidney Registry has a number of programs and initiatives designed to help donors overcome challenges, and the transplant center will conduct thorough testing and evaluations to determine who qualifies to be a donor. Following are some of the issues that should not cause you to rule out a potential donor.

Blood Type/Tissue Matching

It used to be the case that if you wanted to donate a kidney to a specific recipient, you needed to be a good biological match for that recipient. That meant being compatible in blood type and tissue type and passing the crossmatch test. Now, matching your intended recipient is no longer required because of the National Kidney Registry’s kidney matching system. When a donor wants to donate to a specific person, the NKR uses its large pool of donors to separately find the best match for the donor’s kidney and the best-matching living donor kidney for the recipient. So if a potential donor has a non-compatible blood type, they still might be able to donate on your behalf so you get a living donor kidney. Learn more about kidney matching.

Lost Wages or Other Financial Reasons

You may have a potential donor who says they can’t afford to take time off work, or is worried that kidney donation may cost them money. The National Kidney Registry’s Donor Shield program is designed to address these issues, and to ensure that no donor will lose money as a result of their kidney donation. Donor Shield offers a wide variety of assistance, including reimbursement for lost wages, travel costs and dependent care, coverage for any complications, and legal support. For a full list of protections, visit the Donor Shield website.


If you have a potential donor who lives far away from you and does not want to travel to your transplant center to have the donation surgery, the National Kidney Registry’s remote donation program lets donors donate at a participating center near them. Once the donor’s kidney has been removed, the National Kidney Registry will safely transport the kidney from the donor’s hospital to the recipient’s transplant center. The National Kidney Registry uses advanced GPS technology and our Failsafe software to monitor every shipped kidney from the time of pickup until it is safely delivered at the recipient center. Learn more about remote donation.


One of the biggest myths about kidney donation is that people must be young to donate. Actually, people can donate at almost any age, as long as they are healthy. Many people have donated well into their 70s. Every transplant center has its own rules and criteria regarding the age of the donor, so don’t rule out someone on age alone—consult your center or let them make the evaluation.

High Blood Pressure

Having high blood pressure is not an automatic disqualifier for kidney donation. If the high blood pressure is medicated and controllable, and the potential donor is unlikely to have donation-related complications later in life, they may be cleared to donate. Again, it is the transplant center that will make the decision after careful evaluation. If you know someone with high blood pressure who is willing to be screened as a potential donor for you, encourage them to register as a potential donor so the center can determine if they qualify.

BMI (Body Mass Index)

BMI, rather than weight, is used as a guideline for potential kidney donors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BMI of 18.5 to 25 is the healthy weight range, 25 to 30 is overweight, and people with BMI of 30 to 35 have Class 1 obesity. Usually, a transplant center prefers that a potential donor be under 34 or 35 BMI. If the potential donor is borderline and the difference between qualifying and not qualifying as a donor is a few pounds, many transplant centers will give the potential donor the option of losing the weight in order to qualify.


Having cancer in your medical history is also not an automatic disqualifier for potential living kidney donors. It depends on the type of cancer, how long it has been since treatment, and a variety of other factors. If you have a potential donor who has been successfully treated for any type of cancer, refer them to a transplant center for evaluation to determine if they are able to qualify as your kidney donor.

Kidney Issues

Even past kidney issues such as kidney stones, while certainly concerning in a potential kidney donor, may not necessarily rule a donor out.  As with all other medical issues, it’s best to leave the decision to the center rather than assuming the donor would not qualify.

Never Say No to a Potential Donor

When you are looking for a living kidney donor, there are two important things to remember when it comes to whether your potential donor is qualified to become your donor.

1. You never know who might be able to donate, so don’t dismiss someone as a potential donor for any reason. As the kidney patient, your job is not to assess who would be a good donor—leave that to the professionals. The only response to someone offering to be your donor should be, “That’s wonderful, thank you! Here is a link to register and start the screening process.”

2. The process a transplant center goes through in order to screen donor candidates is incredibly stringent, and center professionals look carefully at every potential issue. They want every kidney donation and transplant to be successful, so potential donors will not be approved unless they are perfectly healthy.