Living Kidney Donation

Most people born with two healthy kidneys can safely live with one. When a person with two healthy kidneys donates a kidney to a person experiencing kidney failure, we call this gift a living kidney donation.

Who can donate a kidney?

Being a kidney donor can be very rewarding, but it may not be a good choice for everyone. Kidney donors must:

  • Be in excellent health
  • Be between 21 to 75 years old
  • Have no family history of kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure
  • We recommend not donating for one year after having a baby and to wait one year after donation surgery before becoming pregnant
About 15% of people who are interested in living donation become donors

Types of living kidney donations

People choose to donate a kidney for many reasons. Some donate to a family member or friend in need, and others want to make a difference in someone’s life. There are three types of donations.

Directed Donation

Graphic of person, who is a donor, with arrow pointing at another person, who is a specific patient

When the donor chooses who will get the kidney, such as a family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance.  

Non-Directed Donation

Graphic with image of person who is a donor and arrow pointing at a question mark which represents an unknown recipient

When the donors chooses to donate their kidney to someone who needs it; even though they may not know them personally.  

Paired Exchange Donation

Living Donor Paired Exchange Donation

If blood tests show that a donor’s kidney is not a good match for the person they know, they can donate their kidney to someone else who is a good match to swap for a compatible kidney for their friend or family member.

Benefits of donating a kidney

Donors usually find satisfaction in helping someone in need. Donating creates many benefits for people who are experiencing kidney failure.

Benefits for kidney recipients

  • Less time on dialysis: The person with kidney failure might have a shorter time on dialysis, or no longer need dialysis at all
  • Improved quality of life: The recipient will experience better quality and length of life
  • Fast results: A living kidney usually starts working right away, while a kidney from a deceased donor may take longer to start working
  • Longer lasting: A kidney from a living donor usually lasts longer than a kidney from a deceased donor

Benefits for kidney donors

  • Supportive team: Patient advocates personally guide donors and recipients through every step of the process
  • Better matching: Genetic matching makes kidney rejection less likely. 97% of donations are a match.
  • Flexible dates: Surgery can be planned at a time that is convenient for donors, the recipient, and their support communities.
  • Community guidance: The benefits of donation are personal and may vary greatly. An OHSU advocate can arrange for you to speak with a previous donor to get their personal perspective.
Terri Holde of Longview, Wash., (left) with her sister Gina Holde-White of Winlock, Wash., at the annual OHSU Transplant Picnic, July 21, 2018.
Terry Holde of Longview, Wash., (left) with her sister Gina Holde-White, of Winlock, Wash., at the annual OHSU Transplant Picnic, July 21, 2018.

Risks when donating a kidney

It is important that anyone considering donation know the potential risks so they can decide if donating is a good choice for them.

Short-term risks

  • Kidney donation is a major surgery with a minimum of three weeks recovery
  • Though rare, complications may occur surrounding the surgery (such as reaction to anesthesia, blood clot, or hospital re-admission)

Long-term risks

  • Donors may have an increased risk of kidney failure if the one remaining kidney is damaged or develops cancer later in life
  • Kidney function is permanently reduced by about 30% after donation. The remaining kidney will compensate for the loss of one kidney.
  • Life expectancy is not affected unless other medical problems develop after donation
  • Donors have an increased risk of pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension (high blood pressure with pregnancy)

What to expect: the living kidney donation process

The living donation process usually takes 2-6 months. An independent donor advocate from OHSU will guide you every step of the way.

After you submit your application, you can expect to hear back from an independent donor advocate within 3 business days with an explanation of next steps

Call 503-494-8500 or e-mail at to submit an application

  • Cervical cancer screening within last 3 years for donors 21+
  • Mammogram screening every year for donors 40+
  • Colon cancer screening every 1-10 years for donors 45+
  • Prostate cancer screening every year for donors 50+
  • The evaluation with the clinical transplant team at OHSU includes blood testing, urine testing, and imaging
  • The evaluation takes one full day and you can return home afterwards
  • The OHSU transplant committee of providers will review the evaluation results and decide if kidney donation is safe for you
  • The surgery will be scheduled once you and the recipient are ready
  • The surgery will take place at OHSU and donors can expect to be at the hospital for 3-6 days
  • The initial recovery after surgery takes two weeks, during which donors need to stay in Oregon
  • Donors who live out of state can return to their homes after two weeks for long-term care
    • Long-term care involves lab tests at a location near you
    • The results will be reviewed by a living donor doctor
    • The living donor team will also call you to ask questions and see how you’re doing
    • These follow-up appointments will happen at 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months after your donation
  • OHSU will be available to provide support over the phone during long-term care

Your privacy is important to us

  • We will NOT update your recipient about what stage you are at in your evaluation.
  • We will only notify your recipient when you are fully approved as a donor AND you confirm you want to proceed with surgery.
  • You are NEVER “locked into” this decision. We are here to support you in the decision that is right for you. You can change your mind about donation at any time in the process up to and including the day of surgery.

What to expect: costs

Donating a kidney costs money. Below is a list of costs you, as the donor, would pay for

Transportation and housing costs

Taxi and bus
  • Travel (gas, rental car, airline, or train tickets) to and from OHSU for the day of evaluation and for hospital stays
  • Short-term housing in Portland, Oregon for visits at OHSU.
    • 1-2 nights for day of evaluation
    • 3 weeks for surgery
  • The National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) may be able to help with travel costs. View the NLDAC eligibility guidelines to see if you qualify for assistance.

Support costs

Support Costs Icon
  • Care during surgery and recovery
  • Childcare costs, if applicable
  • Lost wages from time off work
    • You may need to take time off for medical testing prior to surgery, and will need to take 3 to 6 weeks off work for recovery
  • The NLDAC may be able to help with support and childcare costs.

Potential medical costs

Medical Costs Icon
  • The recipient’s insurance will pay for the necessary medical screenings and the surgery.
  • Conditions discovered during the medical screenings process that may need further evaluation or treatment will not be covered by the recipient’s medical insurance but may be covered by your own medical insurance.
  • Any health problems that arise after surgery beyond the time limit paid for by the recipient’s insurance will not be covered.

Legally, you cannot be offered or accept anything of value in exchange for your kidney. This includes but is not limited to money, property or vacations. It is a federal crime to sell a kidney, or for any person to knowingly get or transfer a human organ for anything of value. The law imposes a maximum $50,000 fine and five years in prison for any violation.

Resources for donors

Although legally you cannot be paid to donate a kidney, we can help you connect to organizations that may help cover some of the costs

Financial Resources - Stock photo of a seedling in a glass of coins

Financial resources

Housing Resources - Stock photo of a hotel room

Housing resources

  • Depending on availability, donors can stay at OHSU’s Rood Family Pavilion for free while receiving treatment at OHSU.
  • The OHSU team will help place a reservation for you.
Support Resources - Stock photo of a red heart figurine on a green background

Support resources

  • As a donor, OHSU will provide you an independent living donor advocate. Advocates are not involved in the care of recipients. Their role is to listen to you, answer your questions, and to make sure you have the support in place every step of the way.
  • OHSU advocates can help connect you with previous donors so you can learn about their experience.
  • Donate Life Northwest can help connect you to mentors, online communities, and educational resources.

Interested in applying?

Some people decide to donate quickly with few worries or concerns. Others really struggle with their decision. We encourage donors to take their time, think things over and ask lots of questions. The donor team can help:

  • Answer all your questions
  • Arrange for you to speak with a previous donor to get their personal perspective
  • Help start your application, once you feel ready

For more information or to be connected with a previous donor, call or email us at:

OHSU donation stories

Kidney recipients, living donors, and donor families share how a living transplant changed their life.

Liz Campbell (left) with her kidney donor Emily Lighthipe, at the annual OHSU Transplant Picnic, July 21, 2018. (OHSU)
Liz Campbell (left) with her kidney donor Emily Lighthipe at the annual OHSU Transplant Picnic, July 21, 2018. (OHSU)

“Donating an organ is very feasible. One doesn’t have to be a superhero to be a donor. There’s no better feeling than helping someone else live their life to its fullest.”

-Emily Lighthipe, who donated her kidney to Liz after reading about her on the local newspaper, The Southeast Examiner.

"My life hasn't really changed dramatically since donating my kidney. I've had more people ask about the donation process since then and I'm a happy advocate now! More than anything, I think it changed me. Outside of the obvious having one less kidney, I have a new connection with my friend who also was the recipient." 

- Donor who donated to a friend at OHSU in 2023

"The education, support and guidance offered by the program helped me feel confident in my decision to donate. It is a journey from the application to donate and the day of transplant surgery. There are unknown aspects such as how recovery may look and feel - so feel it is important to be flexible with expectations. Would I do this experience again - Yes, in a heartbeat!"

- Donor who donated at OHSU in 2023

“As a donor, my body was back to 100% in a very short time without any side effects and the recipient will receive many years or even decades of renewed life. Donating really was a piece of cake. The surgeons, doctors, nurses and coordinators are the real heroes.”

- Donor who donated to their uncle at OHSU in 2023

Maria Smythe gives her father, Leo Cruz, a kiss in his Yakima home. Smythe is a kidney donor who wanted to donate to her father, but the pair were not a match.
Maria Smythe gives her father, Leo Cruz, a kiss in his Yakima home. Smythe is a kidney donor who wanted to donate to her father, but the pair were not a match. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

“It was my kidney. It’s not mine anymore, it’s in his body. I would want someone to do that for my dad if my dad was in that situation.”

-Kristi Pfarr, who was part of a 3-way kidney swap involving six people and collaboration between OHSU and two other medical centers in Seattle

The OHSU Clinical Transplant team

Coordinators and advocates

The living kidney donor coordinators and advocates guide donors and recipients through every step of the kidney donation process.

Living Donor Team Members

Meet the providers

    • Erin C. Maynard, M.D., F.A.C.S.
    • Associate Professor and Head of the Division of Abdominal Organ Transplantation
    • Cancer, Surgery and Transplantation Portland
    • Accepting new patients
    • David L. Scott, M.D.
    • Thomas and Velda LaPierre Professor for Kidney Transplantation
    • Surgery, Transplantation and Abdominal Organ Transplantation Portland
    • Accepting new patients
    • David C. Woodland, M.D.
    • Assistant Professor of Surgery
    • Surgery, Transplantation and Kidney Disease Portland
    • Accepting new patients
    • Raghav Wusirika, M.D.
    • Interim Division Head, Division of Nephrology & Hypertension Medical Director, OHSU Inpatient Dialysis Unit Nephrology Director, OHSU Kidney Stones Clinic
    • Nephrology and Hypertension and Nephrology Portland
    • Accepting new patients