Perhaps it is the firm resolve of the New Year, or some planetary alignment, or just our world’s really good fortune: All around me lately have been people asking questions about how to become an anonymous living organ donor. Last Friday, in fact, I received emails from two different people who found this blog, telling me they were considering giving a liver or kidney to a stranger and wondering where they would begin such a process. Just an example of how my own organ gift continues to give back to me… I get the distinct pleasure of conversing with these amazing people, and being awed and inspired by them! (Thank you, M. and L.)
My answer to both of them, and to anyone considering an anonymous gift of life, is to contact the nearest transplant center that conducts living donor transplants, and ask to speak to a donor care coordinator about living donation. (The Greatest Gift Foundation can point you to the appropriate center nearest you if you email us a request.)
As another first step, check out the marvelous Web site hosted by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS, the national governing body for transplantation in the U.S.), called Transplant Living. It has a whole section on Living Donation, and, within that, a full section on “Being a Living Donor” that includes pages with titles like “First Steps,” “Making the Decision,” “What Makes a Good Donor,” “Risks,” and “Tests Involved.” It also offers PDF listings of all the U.S. transplant centers that perform living donor transplants.
Beyond that, as you conduct your search for additional information, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Anonymous organ donation is sometimes called “non-directed donation,” “non-direct donation,” “Good Samaritan donation,” or “altruistic donation.” (That last one kind of bugs me. What are the rest of us, who know our recipients — non-altruistic? I beg to differ!) These make good Google search terms – type in any of them with the name of your state and you’re likely to find some decent, relevant results.
- Not every transplant center will perform transplants from anonymous donors. Doing so takes money, time, talent, adaptation of policy, and administrative and legal work that even some of the best transplant centers cannot afford to invest. To find out, just call the center and ask. (Even if they don’t accept anonymous donations, they may point you to someone nearby who does.)
- Anonymous living donor liver transplants are relatively rare. Kidney transplants from anonymous live donors are much more common. This is mostly because kidney tranplants far outnumber liver transplants (and the waiting list is similarly far greater for kidneys than for livers); kidney transplantation is a more advanced science and has a more advanced infrastructure than liver transplantation does. It also is influenced by the fact that kidney donors can be back to full activity within a matter of days, while liver donors typically require two months or more of recovery before they can resume normal activity.
- The most common concern I have heard from people who are considering anonymous donation is that they could not donate an organ as a living donor again in the future, say, if a family member or friend needed a kidney or liver. This is true. People can donate only one kidney; they need the other one to live. And although the liver regrows to full size after you donate a portion of it, anatomically, it is impossible to donate a piece of your liver a second time. Meanwhile, no transplant center that I know of will accept a liver from a living donor who has already given a kidney, or vice versa.
- Anonymous donors are sometimes the first spark in a chain reaction, in which the loved one of the recipient will anonymously donate to another stranger, whose loved one will in turn donate, and on and on as the gift keeps giving. (This is sometimes referred to as “Daisy Chain” donation.) It’s the “pay it forward” phenomenon in action. There’s a great article about it here and a great video here.
We stand at the ready to help answer further questions and point potential anonymous donors toward other resources online.