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The Gift of Life at Any Age: 84-Year-Old Becomes Oldest Kidney Donor

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Becoming a living organ donor takes heart. Giving your kidney or part of your liver is among the most selfless gifts a person can give. And it takes good health, considering that a person who gives an organ needs to be free of major illnesses.

An 84-year-old man from Austin, Texas had both — clean living and a giving heart — when he learned his neighbor needed a new kidney. He and his doctors didn’t let his age didn’t stand in the way. In fact, it helped make him a great match for his 72-year-old neighbor, the man’s doctor told CNN.

His story reminds us that the love and sacrifice of becoming a living donor knows no age.

“Living donation is the greatest, most selfless gift you can give to someone,” said Thomas Chin, MD, AdventHealth’s Surgical Director of Liver Transplant. It often means the difference between getting an organ now and waiting years.

“Currently, for a kidney, the wait is typically five years and liver allocation is based on how sick you are,” Dr. Chin says. 

Meanwhile, a donor who makes so great a gift can reap the benefits, as well. Helping others gives us purpose and meaning, which lifts our whole-person health.

How Organ Donation Works

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of organ donation: living and deceased. This post is about living donation, which, as you might guess, happens when the donor is alive. This clearly takes a special commitment, but there’s another step that just about everyone can take.

It’s called becoming a deceased donor, meaning your organs may be given to someone who needs them after you die. This post explains 10 great reasons to agree to donate your organs after you die — including that one person can save up to eight lives.

Living donors can pick a family member, friend, spouse or someone else to donate an organ to. This is called a “directed” donation, and it’s the most common type. But a donor does not have to name a specific person and can instead give to someone in need.

A living kidney donation has some advantages for the recipient compared with a donation from a deceased person, especially: 

  • Less wait: Without a living donor, a sick person must wait for their turn to receive one.
  • Better health: A kidney from a living donor tends to work better than one from a deceased donor.
  • Longer-lasting: Living donor kidneys last twice as long as those from a deceased donor, on average.

A person who wants to donate a kidney should be: 

  • Willing to donate
  • 18 years or older
  • In good physical health (free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer or other chronic conditions)

If you’re an older adult and are interested in donating a kidney or part of your liver, it may still be an option.

Living Donation and Older Adults

It’s easy to see why a donated kidney or another organ should be in good shape before it saves a new life. Our organs can decline as we age, but the process happens faster in some people and slower in others, Dr. Chin explains. 

“Older people typically can donate as many organs as younger people,” he said. “Active infection and cancer are typically the only absolute reasons for not being accepted.”

Different transplant centers have different upper age limits for living organ donation. Our age limit is 75 years, said Christina Burnett, RN-BC, CCTC, who coordinates living donor transplants at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute.

“Many times, as we age, our kidney function generally declines and many people don’t have a kidney that works well enough to donate,” she says. “We have had patients donate as old as 70 at the time of donation.”

In general, an older kidney donor is a better fit for an older recipient. The 84-year-old Texas donor says he doesn’t want to keep his record as the oldest living donor.

"I just hope it motivates others that are healthy, no matter what age, to donate," he said. "And hopefully somebody 85, 86, will donate. No big deal. It's a number."

We believe in the power of organ donation to save the lives of those who receive them and enrich the lives of those who give. If you’d like to learn more about organ donation or transplant, visit our website or call Call407-303-2474

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