Donating a kidney to someone you don't know

Non-directed altruistic kidney donation

In recent years, a growing number of people have offered one of their kidneys anonymously to someone on the National Transplant List. A living person who donates one of their kidneys to someone they do not already know is called a non-directed altruistic kidney donor. 

There are currently thousands of people in the UK in need of a kidney transplant. Most of us can live perfectly well with only one kidney, and yet nearly all of us have two.

A kidney transplant can transform the life of someone with kidney disease, whether or not they are already having dialysis treatment. Volunteering to offer a kidney is a wonderful thing to do, but it is also an important decision and there are lots of things for you to consider. We hope this information will answer some of the questions that you may have.

Could you volunteer to donate to someone you don't know?

Carrie, who donated a kidney to stranger in 2014
Carrie, who donated a kidney to stranger

Healthy people who wish to help someone with kidney disease may volunteer to give a kidney. Volunteer is the key word – this must be something that you choose to do and feel comfortable doing.

Any adult can volunteer to be considered as a non-directed altruistic donor (over 18 years of age in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, over 16 years of age in Scotland).

You will be asked to undertake a series of tests so that the medical team can be absolutely sure that you are healthy enough to donate. Your health and safety is of primary concern and it is important to be aware from the start that, even if you want to be a donor, not everyone is suitable and you may be unable to donate.

It is also important to remember that even if you do volunteer, you can change your mind at any point in the process – right up to the time of surgery.

Directed altruistic donation

Donating a kidney to someone specific with whom you have no previous existing relationship is called Directed altruistic donation. When people post stories on Facebook or appeal for a donor through the media, it is usually because the recipient has waited a long time for a kidney or that a loved one simply wants to do something to help them. There are many reasons why some people wait longer than others for a transplant but mostly it is because it is difficult to find a compatible kidney from either a living or deceased donor.

One appeal can generate interest from lots of people and not everyone can be assessed immediately or all at the same time. You need to be realistic about what this means for you. Below are some things to think about before you volunteer.

How will you know if you are suitable to donate?

You will undergo a number of medical and surgical tests to check that you are fit and healthy enough to donate. A kidney will never be removed from someone unless the doctors are satisfied that the risks to them, in the short and long-term, are acceptably low.

Some people who wish to donate find that they are not able to do so because of the results of the assessment process. Members of the team involved in your assessment may include doctors, nurse coordinators, counsellors, psychologists and social workers. They will guide you through the process every step of the way.

Become a living kidney donor

If you are not a suitable 'match' for someone you wish to donate to, it may be possible for you to join a sharing scheme and be matched with another donor recipient pair in the same situation and for the donor kidneys to be 'exchanged' or 'swapped'.

More information

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