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How Do I Find Out if I am Qualified to Donate a Kidney?

Michael Lollo, NKR Chief Strategy Officer

If you are interested in donating a kidney, there is a simple way to determine if you are eligible to become a donor.

Visit the National Kidney Registry’s donor screen page and enter your name, phone number and email. You will receive an email with a link to a medical screening questionnaire to start the process. The medical screening questionnaire is the first step toward determining if you are eligible to donate a kidney.

It should take you approximately 45 minutes to complete, and will include detailed questions about your medical history, including demographics and personal information, medications, past screenings and medical tests, history of medical conditions and treatment, allergies, fitness level, family history and more. The medical questionnaire is very comprehensive, so you’ll want to gather all your medical records before you begin.

While it is important to fill out the screening as completely as possible, if there a question you can’t answer or don’t understand, you can skip it and continue to the next question—you do not need to answer every question in order to complete the screening. Anything that is left unanswered can be discussed with the transplant team when the time comes.

Requirements for kidney donation vary by transplant center, but in general you must be in good health, with normal kidney function and no major physical or mental illnesses in order to become a living kidney donor.

There are some reasons you may be disqualified from donating:

Age

The minimum age to become a kidney donor is 18-25 depending on the transplant center. There is no official maximum age limit for becoming a living kidney donor, though it does tend to be more difficult for older potential donors to qualify. According to the latest data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which tracks every organ donation and transplant event occurring in the U.S., 2% of all living kidney donors to date have been over 65, while 66% have been between the ages of 35 and 64. The National Kidney Registry has had donors who were in their late 70s when they donated.

If you want to donate to an intended recipient at some point in the future but are concerned that you may be too old by the time your intended recipient is ready for a transplant, the NKR’s Voucher Program lets you donate now and give vouchers to up to five family members. If any of the voucher holders need a kidney in the future, they can activate their voucher to receive priority consideration for a well-matched kidney from a living donor through the NKR. Only one voucher can be redeemed per voucher donor.

BMI

Potential kidney donors with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 35 are usually rejected as kidney donors. Those with a BMI of 30-35 may be encouraged to lose weight before surgery. If you are interested in becoming a kidney donor but are concerned that you will not be accepted because of your weight, the best way to find out if you are eligible, what you may need to do to become eligible, or which centers will accept you as a donor candidate, is to complete the NKR’s online donor screening.

Disease or Medical Condition

Kidney donors must be healthy, so potential donors may be disqualified if they have a serious medical condition, such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, active or recently treated cancer, HIV, hepatitis, or acute or recurring infections.

Mental Health Issues

You may also be disqualified from becoming a kidney donor if you have a serious mental health condition, are misusing drugs or alcohol, have dementia, or are mentally compromised in a way that would make it difficult for you to safely undergo testing, surgery and recovery.

Don’t Disqualify Yourself as a Donor

It’s important for potential donors to know that many conditions can be improved or managed in a way that enables them to become a donor, so don’t count yourself out. If you are truly interested in becoming a kidney donor, go ahead with the medical screening and leave the decision to medical professionals whose job it is to make sure every living kidney donor is able to donate safely.

Next Steps in the Kidney Donation Process

Once you submit your medical history, a transplant center will contact you within a few days to discuss your potential as a donor. If you are approved, you will need to undergo testing, including blood tests and urine tests. If everything goes well, you may be approved to donate a kidney within one to four weeks.