What to know about living organ donation

Dr. Baker and Dr. Fung performing transplant surgery

Thanks to refinements in surgical techniques, living organ donation has become less invasive, with faster and easier recovery, for potential donors.

Rolf Barth, MD, transplant surgeon and Associate Director of the Transplant Institute at the University of Chicago Medicine, pioneered the minimally invasive “virtually scarless” donor nephrectomy (kidney removal). He has performed this procedure more than 500 times and has extensively published on, taught and spoken about this novel approach.

Barth answers questions about living donation and how advanced technology has made the surgery safer for the organ donors.

Why are living kidney and liver donations important?

Unlike a heart or lung, a liver segment or kidney can be donated by a healthy, living donor. This essentially eliminates any time on the waiting list. (For kidney transplantation, wait times for donor organs from deceased donors can exceed six years.) When an organ or segment of an organ is removed from a living donor, it is given to the recipient within hours, resulting in immediate function, fewer complications and significantly shorter hospital stays. These organs, especially kidneys, appear to last two to three times longer as organs from deceased donors. So, no waiting, better surgical results and a longer-lasting transplanted organ.

What is involved in the living donor evaluation process?

A potential living organ donor goes through a detailed evaluation, including blood tests, imaging studies such as CT scans and X-rays, and meetings with the transplant team. These tests and consultations help us determine if the individual can safely become a living donor and rule out any barriers that would prevent a person from donating. Safety is always the primary concern.

Are there risks to living donation surgery?

As with any major surgery, organ donation surgery has minor risks of complications such as bleeding, infection or issues with the incision. A team of surgeons, physicians and independent donor advocates focuses only on donor safety, without bias or influence from the recipient’s transplant team, even when the donor and recipient are related.

How does UChicago Medicine make surgery safer for living organ donors?

Our transplant surgeons use the most advanced techniques to procure the organ from the donor. When removing a portion of a healthy liver, we use a hybrid approach: the first step in the operation is done laparoscopically with smaller incisions, followed by an open surgery. We offer two types of kidney donation (nephrectomy) procedures: laparoscopic or robotic with three small incisions and a larger incision for organ removal, and a nearly scarless approach with only one small incision hidden in the belly button. These minimally invasive techniques reduce pain, and shorten the hospital stay and overall recovery time.

Are you Eligible to be a Living Donor?

This questionnaire is for friends, family and others who are considering being a living donor.

Take our living donor questionnaire
Rolf Barth

Rolf Barth, MD

Dr. Barth performed the first scarless single-port laparoscopic donor nephrectomies (kidney removal), and has gone on to successfully complete this procedure over 500 times.

See Dr. Barth's physician profile

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