The human body is truly an incredible machine. Surely, you’ve heard this analogy before. Every organ is a heavily specialized miracle of evolution, playing an important role in harmony with all the others, so that the organism that is you can go about their day exploring this world (or the latest streaming service).
Here’s what they don’t mention: you’re full of spare parts too.
What is Living Donation?
Although most are familiar with the idea of organ donation after death, you really don’t have to wait for the afterlife to play Santa with (some of) your organs and tissues.
In addition to being an incredible machine, the human body is also a resilient machine, with built-in redundancies and even the ability to regenerate certain pieces. This gives us the opportunity to help our fellow humans by donating some of our spare parts, while we’re still alive and without sacrificing our own health.
This is called Living Donation. And through living donation, thousands of lives are saved every year.
What Can I Donate?
Quite a bit, actually. It’s not exactly an anatomical free-for-all, but a healthy human body has a lot to give. Here’s a basic rundown of just some of the various tissues and organs you can donate while living.
- Blood – This one is so commonplace that most probably don’t even consider it when discussing living donation, but giving blood is a quick and easy way to make a difference in your community. Hospitals and trauma centers have crucial need.
- Bone Marrow – Necessary to the creation of white blood cells and platelets. Your body can easily replace what’s donated, but your donation will make a world of difference for the recipient.
- Kidney – Sharing is caring and you do have two of them. Plus, it only takes one to keep a human body healthy. This is the most common of living organ donations, with nearly 6,000 living donor transplants performed in 2020.
- Liver - As the name would suggest, you can’t live without it. You can, however, cut off a piece (called a lobe) and give it to somebody who lost theirs. (Do not try this at home.) Your remaining liver will return to normal function within a matter of weeks and regrow to its full size in about a year. The transplanted lobe will similarly grow in the organ recipient.
- Lung – Similar to living liver donations, donors give a lobe of healthy lung to someone in need. However, unlike the liver, the lungs do not regenerate. Our lungs only have five lobes, so successful transplants often require two donors.
- Pancreas & Intestine – For both of these, transplants from deceased donors is far more common. However, it is possible for donors to give portions of these organs to those in need, and not sacrifice their own quality of life. However, these organs also do not regrow.
Who Can I Donate To?
Whomever you want, as long as they have the same blood type.
Seeing as you made that kidney yourself, you certainly get to decide where it goes. And most living donors are giving to specific family members or friends through what is called a directed donation.
However, there are also living donors who opt for non-directed donations. Organs donated this way are then matched to people on the national transplant waiting list. Sometimes donors and recipients meet; sometimes they don’t. It’s up to them.
Double Donors Do It Twice
It’s rare, but it happens. Some folks are so generous that they have donated more than one of their organs to different donors. The United Network for Organ Sharing estimates this has happened fewer than 50 times in the United States in the last 25 years.
Some More Total Understandable Questions About Living Donation
Question: Will being a living donor affect my life expectancy? Will I die younger with only one kidney?
Answer: No. Studies have found no evidence that being a living donor shortens your life span. However, less than 1% of liver donors do experience acute liver failure while the organ regrows.
Once the liver grows back entirely, function returns to normal as well.
Q: Is there an age limit for living donation?
A: Nope! Grandparents give great hugs and great kidneys.
Q; Will I have to stay in the hospital?
A: Kidney donors will likely have a brief hospital stay of 1-2 days. For lung or liver donors, it could be about a week. Tissue donations are typically outpatient procedures.
Q: Will I have to take medication the rest of my life, like organ recipients?
A: No. Organ recipients take medications to keep their body from rejecting an organ transplanted from another person. The donor will likely receive some pain medication post-surgery, but that’s about it.
Q: Can I still drink alcohol after donating part of my liver?
A: You should abstain for at least three months, post-donation. After that, drink responsibly, my friend.
Q: Can I still be active and play sports and such, after donating?
A: Yes. You will have a recovery time ranging from 4-6 weeks for kidney donation to even a few months for liver or lung donation, during which you should rest and take it easy. Once recovered, you will be able to return to normal activity.
Sign Up To Be An Organ Donor
Every donor can save up to eight people and improve quality of life for even more
Click here to sign up.
Q: Can I engage in sexual activity after organ donation?
A: Once you feel well enough, go for it!
Q: Will being a living donor make me cooler?
A: Yes. Studies show at least a 33% increase in relative coolness*.
*Not an actual statistic
For more information on living donation and becoming a living donor, click on any of the following links:
US Health Resources & Services Administration on Organ Donation
United Network for Organ Sharing
Donate Life America
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and once competed in the Tour de France on a stationary bike.