Where Will my New Kidney Come From?
The Organ Shortage
There is a severe shortage of organs for transplant. This means that the wait for a kidney
transplant can be many years. The UW Transplant Program has long been a leader in trying to
find new ways to increase the number of good organs that can be used for transplant. When you
are told you need a kidney transplant, you have options as to where your new kidney will come
from. It is very important that you explore these options fully.
Live Donor Kidney Donation
A kidney from a living donor is the best choice and the only way to skip the long waiting time.
There are some things to keep in mind when thinking about using a live donor.
Is the person willing to donate?
Is the donor healthy and medically able?
There are many benefits from getting a living donor kidney.
Better health: Because you were able to avoid a long wait time, you are more likely to be
in better health when you receive your transplant.
Better quality kidney:
o Studies have shown better success with a living donor kidney transplant.
o With a living donor, the health of the kidney is well known. The person is over 18
years of age and a healthy person who has had recent complete health testing.
o Kidneys from living donors often start working right away.
o Perhaps best of all, long-term outcomes are better with a living donor kidney. The
five year success rates for people who have received a kidney from a living donor are
about 10% higher than those who receive their kidney from a deceased donor.
A better match: The donor has a series of health testing to make sure that they are in
good health and that the kidney is healthy. Tests are done to check the matching between
the donor and the recipient which allows the transplant team a chance to find the best
match. Family members often match the best but anyone, friend or acquaintance can get
tested for matching.
Better prepared: The transplant can be planned for a time when both the donor and the
recipient are in the best health for surgery.
Who can donate?
Anyone can get tested as a living donor: family friend, church acquaintance, facebook friend, etc.
Any living donor must be in good physical and mental health. They cannot have had chronic
kidney stones, high blood pressure being treated with more than 2 medications, diabetes, or
current cancer. Some health problems such as frequent kidney or bladder infections, heart
disease, obesity, age, or other major health issues need to be looked at on a case by case basis.
Related/Unrelated Live Donation
The two most common living donors are someone who is blood related to the recipient: brother,
sister, parent, child, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece or nephew; and someone who is very close to the
patient: spouse, fiancés, in-laws and close friends. However, as mentioned before, a living donor
can be found through your community, church, and through social media.
Other Live Donor Options
There are times when a person comes forward and wants to donate a kidney but does not have a
certain person in mind to receive the kidney. We have a system to closely assess these people to
decide if they can donate. The donor has the option to start a chain of exchanges with other
recipient and donor pairs and the chain would end with a patient from the waiting list, or donate
directly to the first person on the waiting list who is a match.. The donor may remain unknown
if they choose or can be known to the recipient.
To learn more about Humanitarian Donation, and to speak with a program staff member, please
call (608) 263-1384.
Paired Exchange Live Donation
There are instances when a person cannot donate a kidney to their friend, family member, or
loved one because they are not a match. This may be because their blood types do not match, or
there can be other tissue matching issues. The paired kidney donation exchange program gives a
willing donor the opportunity to help their intended recipient receive a living donor kidney from
If there is another recipient and donor in the same situation, the paired kidney donation exchange
program can be an option. If medically appropriate, each donor could donate his or her kidney to
the other recipient. In this way, both recipients would receive a matching kidney from an
unrelated living donor. These exchanges can be as simple as 2 pairs or as complex as 6 or more
We participate in the National Kidney Registry and the United Network for Organ Sharing
(UNOS) Paired Kidney Exchange Programs. With these programs, a kidney from a live donor
could be sent to UWHC for you, and your donor’s kidney could be sent elsewhere in the United
States. We also have our own internal UW Transplant Exchange Program. With these three
options we increase the chances of finding you a matching kidney. For more information please
go to www.kidneyregistry.org,, speak directly to your transplant coordinator, or call the Paired
Exchange Coordinator at 608-263-4298.
Desensitization before Live Donation
In some cases donors who do not match with the recipient because of ABO blood type or
crossmatch testing may still be able to be donors. The UW Health Transplant Program kidney
desensitization process uses immunosuppressant drugs and a plasma treatment to remove
rejection-causing antibodies from the bloodstream. This process is done both in the week/days
before and the days/weeks after transplant. It allows patients who would likely reject the kidney
transplant to successfully receive their transplant.
During this process harmful antibodies are removed from the blood stream of patients who do
not match with their donor through either blood-type or tissue sensitivity. These tissue
antibodies, which fight foreign tissues like those found on a donated organ, can cause the organ
to reject. These types of antibodies are often produced after being exposed to foreign tissue,
such as a past transplant, blood transfusion, or pregnancy. The antibody removal process is
called plasmaphoresis, which is like hemodialysis.
To learn more about this, and to speak with a program staff member, please call 608-263-4298.
Deceased Donor Kidney Donation
Some patients may not have a living donor. They will need to go on the list to wait for a
deceased donor transplant. Deceased donor kidneys are offered to recipients according to the
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) guidelines. The Organ Procurement Organization
(OPO) contacts the UW Transplant Program when a kidney is available and tells them who is
number one on the UNOS list to receive the kidney. Below are the types of deceased donor
kidneys that patients may be offered:
Donation after Brain Death
The most common type of organ donor is a person who suffered from a head injury that caused
brain death. “Brain death” occurs when someone does not get enough oxygen, causing the brain
to stop working. This is often due to trauma or a stroke. Doctors can tell when someone is
brain dead by testing certain reflexes controlled by the brain and by using machines that look at
blood flow to the brain. The brain controls breathing so people who are brain dead are in a
hospital on a breathing machine called a ventilator. Because of the breathing tube and certain
medicines, the person’s body can function even after brain death. This allows the heart to keep
beating and supply the kidneys and other organs with blood and oxygen until a transplant team
removes the organ.
Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD)
Sometimes a patient’s trauma is so severe that doctors cannot save their life, but they do not meet
the measures for “brain death.” The doctors then discuss with the patient’s family whether or not
to remove life support. If the family chooses to remove life support, the machines are turned off,
and the patient is allowed to die peacefully. Sometimes these patients can be organ donors.
Transplant teams are called and are present when the life support is turned off. After the
patient’s heart stops beating and is declared dead by their doctor, the transplant teams can
remove the organs. This is called Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD). Because the heart has
stopped beating in these donors, there is a lack of blood flow for a short time to the organs as
they are removed. Because of this, kidneys from DCD donors may sometimes take a few days to
start working after the transplant. But the outcomes for patients who receive a kidney from a
DCD donor are the same as with a brain death donor.
KDPI is a percentage score that ranges from zero to 100 percent. This score is based on
transplant research and is associated with how long a kidney is likely to function. Kidneys with
high KDPI scores are expected to function for a shorter amount of time than others.
KDPI scores are calculated based on facts about the donor, such as:
Age, height, weight, and ethnicity
Cause of death due to loss of heart function, loss of brain function, or stroke
History of high blood pressure
History of diabetes
Exposure to the Hepatitis C virus
Kidney function (serum creatinine levels)
What are the risks of getting a kidney with KDPI greater than 85%?
Kidneys with KDPI of greater than 85 percent come from donors who may have one or more of
the above medical factors (advanced age, obesity, diabetes, low kidney function, etc.). Possible
risks involved in getting this type of kidney may include:
A delay in the kidney working right away after transplant, may last from a couple of days to a
couple of weeks. This is called delayed graft function. Since the kidney(s) may not work
immediately, patients may need to receive dialysis treatments after transplant. Only about 1-2%
of kidneys may never work adequately after transplant.
The kidney may not last as long as kidneys with KDPI less than 85 percent. How long a kidney
continues to work is called graft survival. Your provider will explain the differences in outcomes
between kidneys with lower and higher KDPI scores.
What are the benefits of getting a kidney with KDPI >85%?
Agreeing to receive a kidney with KDPI greater than 85 percent increases your chances of
getting a transplant sooner, which may extend your life. This may be especially beneficial for
patients who have many health concerns and those having trouble with dialysis. Your waiting
time may be decreased by accepting a kidney with a KDPI score of 85 percent or higher.
If I agree to be listed for a kidney with KDPI >85%, will I still be listed for other kidneys?
Yes. When a deceased donor kidney becomes available, the KDPI score will be calculated. The
appropriate patient list is run and a patient is chosen to receive the kidney. ALL patients on the
list will be able to get a kidney from a donor with aKDPI score less than 85 percent. ONLY those
patients who sign a consent to accept a KDPI score of 85 percent or higher will be on the list for
donor kidneys with a KDPI score of 85 percent or higher. Those who do not sign this consent
form are not eligible to receive a kidney from a donor with a KDPI score of 85 percent or
Patients must sign a consent form that they are willing to accept a kidney from a donor with a
KDPI > 85%. If you agree to receive a kidney with a KDPI > 85% you will be placed on the list
for a kidney from a donor with any KDPI score from 0% to 100% whichever would become
Do you ever put in two kidneys?
Yes. National data as well as our experience has shown that if you get 2 kidneys from a donor
with a KDPI score of >85%, the function is similar to that of one kidney from a donor with a
KDPI score of <85%. Therefore, you may be offered 2 >85% kidneys even if you did not
consent to one >85% kidney. The two kidneys are placed on one side of the body. Your
incision is the same as if you were getting one kidney.
Another situation when 2 kidneys are used is when we have a younger or very small donor. This
is referred to as “en bloc” because the kidneys are put in together on one side of your body.
Statistics have shown that 2younger/smaller kidneys have similar outcomes of one adult sized
“Increased Risk” Donors
You may be offered an organ from a deceased donor that is thought to be at increased risk for
spreading certain infections according to the Public Health Service 2013 Guidelines. Donors are
considered “increased risk” because of high risk behaviors such as prostitution, intravenous drug
use, or homosexuality. It is not the norm to accept organs from such donors unless we feel that
the good far outweighs the would-be risk. Blood tests are done on potential donors to look for a
virus such as HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. However, no test is perfect. False negative results
are possible, but very rare. Using data from organ, tissue, and blood donors we know there is a
very small chance, 1 in 60,000 to 1 in 2,000,000, which a virus could be passed on. We believe
that the risks of getting this type of kidney are very small or we would not suggest that you
accept it. The transplant coordinator will inform you at the time that the kidney is offered if it is
from an increased risk donor. You would then decide whether to accept this type of kidney. If
you choose not to accept the kidney, you will not lose your place on the waiting list.
What will I be told about my donor?
Patient confidentiality laws limit how much we can tell you about your donor. We cannot tell
you the donor’s age, gender, or personal or health history. Guidelines for allocating kidneys are
set by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The Organ Procurement Organization
(OPO) informs the UW Transplant Program when a kidney is found and who is number one on
the UNOS list to receive the kidney. The OPO has a thorough screening for all would-be donors
to attempt to find any illness that could affect the transplant organ or the patient who receives it.
Screening for such an illness can be limited by time constraints between the time that the donor
was injured and the organ obtained. We use our best knowledge and judgment to attempt to
ensure every organ we transplant will function and will in no way harm the patient who receives
How do I choose?
There are risks and benefits for each of the above types of kidney transplants. Members of the
transplant team can provide more information about this topic. They can help you choose the
type of transplant that may be best for your own case.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 3/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospital
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6695