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Is a Living Donor Kidney Better than a Deceased Donor Kidney?

EJ Tamez, Director, Patient Coaching

If you need a kidney transplant, you may be wondering which is the better option: a transplant with a kidney from a living donor or a transplant using a kidney from a deceased donor?

Either option is better than dialysis, a process that allows you to live without functioning kidneys but is not a very good long-term solution. While up to 80% of people with kidney failure can survive one year with dialysis, only 35% survive five years or more.

For that reason, most people with kidney failure who are eligible for a kidney transplant would prefer to receive a transplant rather than stay on dialysis.

Once the decision has been made to pursue a kidney transplant, kidney patients have two options: put their name on the national waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor, or find a living kidney donor.

Using a living donor for a kidney transplant offers several advantages:

  • Wait time: Most people on the deceased donor waitlist wait at least three and up to 10 years for a deceased donor kidney. If you have a living kidney donor, the wait will only be as long as it takes to undergo testing and prepare for surgery.
  • Planning for surgery: Patients waiting for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor must be constantly on call in case a matching kidney becomes available, and transplants often happen with no warning. With a living donor, you can schedule the transplant surgery when it’s convenient for you.
  • Kidney quality: Deceased kidney donors are more likely to be older and may not have been in the best of health. All living donors undergo extensive health testing to ensure there are no major medical issues and that the kidney is functioning properly, so the kidney you get from a living donor is likely to be much healthier than one from a deceased donor.
  • Donor-recipient match: Kidney patients who undergo a living kidney donor transplant through the National Kidney Registry receive the best possible donor-recipient match, which means they may be able to reduce the dosage of immunosuppressive medications taken after the transplant. Better matches can also result in fewer complications during and after surgery, as well as longer kidney life.
  • Kidney life: Living donor kidneys typically last twice as long as deceased donor kidneys—between 20 and 40 years compared to 10-15 years for a deceased donor kidney.
  • Patient survival rates: People who receive a kidney from a living donor tend to live longer than those who receive one from a deceased donor. One study found that living donor kidney recipients had a 93% survival rate at one year and 83% at five years, compared to 79% and 76% for recipients of a deceased donor kidney.

With all the advantages of living kidney donor transplants over deceased kidney donor transplants, why doesn’t everyone use a living donor? The problem is that there are not enough living donors to help all the people who need kidney transplants. There are over 90,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant, but only about 6,000 people become living kidney donors every year.

If you are in need of a kidney transplant, there are many ways to find a living kidney donor to donate, either directly to you or on your behalf so you are able to get a matching living donor, usually within a few months.

For more information, visit www.findakidney.org.