And it's good news. Many people who might consider donating to a loved one or a stranger hesitate because of understandable concern for one's own health. Now, the new study shows living with one remaining kidney does not affect the long-term health of healthy donors.
Robert Imes is back at his job now after a transplant in which he received a live donor kidney. And he's grateful to the donor.
"Donating a kidney is one of those life-changing moments that you can do for another person," he said.
Judy Payne did just that. She became a donor.
"It didn't seem to be that hard of a decision," she said. "I like to give to others. I like to share what I can of my blessings."
Dr. Dorry Segev at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School led a study, in which he studied the effects of donation on 80,000 live kidney donors dating back to 1994.
"If you are cleared by a transplant center to donate your kidney, donating your kidney is a safe operation," Dr. Segev said. "And you don't have any increased risk of dying down the road with one kidney as compared to matched health people who have two kidneys."
Two subgroups have a slightly higher risk of dying from donating a kidney - males and African-Americans, but the percentages on average are still quite low.
Researchers also say the percentage of donors over age 50 has almost doubled.
"As this country ages, the number of people needing a kidney increases and the age of people considering donating a kidney will increase," Dr. Segev said. "And it's important for us to know that it's safe for those considering donation, even those who are older."
Many centers are now using laparoscopic surgery, so-called peephole surgery. Donors and recipients do not have to be related, but there has to be a specific kind of blood antigen match. Donating is a serious decision and should only be done after discussion with transplant professionals.