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Donor Search Tip: Never Say You Have a Donor Until the Transplant Surgery is Done

EJ Tamez, Director, Patient Coaching

When you are searching for a living kidney donor and someone expresses interest in donating a kidney on your behalf, it can be tempting to focus all your attention on that donor and slow or stop your efforts to reach other potential donors. That is a mistake.

Living kidney donation is a complicated process, and potential donors must go through many tests before they are cleared to donate. Someone with every intention of being your donor could be disqualified at any stage of the process—even during the surgery itself.

Because of this, it’s very important to remember that when it comes to living kidney donation, “it’s not over till it’s over”—your donor search is not finished until your transplant surgery is complete.

Here are some important guidelines to improve your chances of a successful living donor kidney transplant:

Don’t count on your donor.

No matter how sure a potential donor seems, things happen. There are many reasons a potential donor may be eliminated. The donor may develop health issues or experience unforeseen family or work obligations that make donation inconvenient or impossible. The transplant team may identify an issue that eliminates the potential donor, the donation surgery could be cancelled, or they donor may simply change their mind.

Don’t slow or stop your search efforts

Once you have a willing donor you may think it’s safe to relax your search efforts, but it’s very important that you continue to share your story and look for potential donors. You never know what may happen, and the more potential donors you have, the better your chances of achieving a successful living donor kidney transplant.

Don’t tell people you have a donor.

Saying you already have a donor will deter other potential donors, and you may need them if the intended donor can’t become your donor for any reason. Once a potential donor feels like they are no longer needed, it will be much more difficult to come back to them and ask them to be screened if your original choice falls through. That’s not to say you should be dishonest. If someone asks you if you have already found a donor, all you have to say is that you have a potential donor but it’s not definite, and your donor search is still active.

Keeping your donor search active until the very last minute has important benefits.

If you “put all your eggs in one basket” with one donor, it will be extremely time-consuming to start the whole process again from the beginning with someone else if your intended donor falls through. It’s much preferable to have all potential donors start the screening process as soon as they are able, so if your original choice is eliminated, there is a better chance of having another potential donor close to being approved. That means less time spent waiting, which can be taxing on both your physical and mental health.

If you’re lucky enough to end up with more than one potential donor, there’s always a chance that the person who does not donate on your behalf will decide to donate anyway to help someone else.