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Gift of kidney donation
Prairie Doc
Jill Kruse D.O.
Jill Kruse, D.O.

The first successful organ transplant was a kidney transplant in 1954. The donor was the identical twin of the recipient. The new kidney worked for 11 months.  This was long before any anti-rejection medications were available. Cyclosporine, the first anti-rejection medication, was approved for use in 1983. The use of anti-rejection medications has significantly increased how long transplanted organs will function.

A transplanted kidney from a living donor will last on average 12-20 years. A kidney from a decease donor lasts 8-12 years on average. Amazingly, the longest reported kidney transplant lasted 60 years. Most people who have kidney transplants for end stage kidney disease are first treated with kidney dialysis. Since dialysis is an option treatment for end stage kidney disease, people may wonder why kidney transplants are needed at all.  

Dialysis is not ideal as it only can do about 10-15% of the work that a healthy kidney dose. Dialysis is also very costly and time consuming for the patient. The average life expectancy of a patient on dialysis is 5-10 years. Thus dialysis commonly used as a bridge to kidney transplants, and not a replacement for transplant.   

Kidney and liver transplants are unique because they can be done with living donors. For the kidney donor, once a kidney is removed, the remaining one will increase in size to adjust for the lost kidney. The portion of the liver that is donated can regrow rapidly and the donor’s liver will be back to normal size and function in a few months after the donation. Donation of a kidney or part of a liver does not shorten the donor’s life expectancy.

Per the National Organ Transplant Act, neither living nor deceased donors are compensated for organ donations. This is truly a gift of life that is given to the recipient. However, organ recipients may pay for their living donor’s travel, lodging, and lost wages in connection with the donation.  The donor’s surgery is often billed to the recipient’s health insurance. The National Living Donor Assistance Center also helps eligible donors financially when they cannot have their expenses covered by the donor, the donor’s insurance company, or state programs.  

Since 1954 over one million organ transplants have taken place in the United States. The Organ Procurement and Transplant Network reported over 42,800 organ transplants were done in 2022. Last year 6,466 people became living organ donors. Thanks to organ donors, transplant recipients can live longer and healthier lives. Consider checking the organ donor box next time you are at the DMV. One day, it may lead to the gift needed for someone else to stay healthy out there.  

Richard P. Holm, MD passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is founder of The Prairie Doc®. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® ® library, visit and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook. Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota.