A person who donates an organ for transplant, knowing he or she can survive without it, is considered a living donor. Some patients who are having problems with an organ go on a donor list and wait to receive an organ from a newly deceased person. This lengthy waiting process can be avoided if the person having health problems is in need of an organ that a person — often a friend or family member — is willing to donate and can donate without harming his or her own health in the process.
Only certain organs can be transplanted from a living donor into another person's body. One of the most common organs taken from a living donor is a kidney, because many healthy people are capable of living a long life with only one kidney. Living organ donors also can donate a piece of a healthy liver. Lung lobes, a part of a pancreas and a section of intestine also can sometimes be donated.
A person interested in being a living donor must be 18 years of age or older. Potential living donors must undergo a series of blood tests to make sure the would-be donor does not have hepatitis, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or any other blood-borne illnesses. The blood type of a living donor also must be compatible with the person receiving the organ donation. Psychiatric evaluations are often required for a person to become a living donor, and gynecological tests are performed on female donor candidates.
Organ transplant surgery has possible risks for both the person giving the organ and the person receiving an organ. Doctors can help both patients weigh their risks for blood clots, infections and hemorrhaging. The living donor and the recipient should both expect to be in some pain after the surgery and should schedule adequate time off from work to rest and recover.
Blood relatives of an ill person usually have the best chance of being a blood-type match. A person who needs an urgent organ transplant should have any willing parents, siblings or adult children tested to see if they have a compatible blood type. Friends, in-laws and even strangers can donate an organ to a sick person as long as the blood types are compatible and all other qualifications are met. It may be harder to find a compatible match among non-relatives, but it is not impossible.