Correction: Between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 23 2015, five living kidney donors have died in the United States one to two years after donation from causes determined to be medical in nature, according to OPTN. 

The University of California San Francisco Medical Center has voluntarily suspended its living donor program for kidney transplants after a living donor died in November. According to a representative from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), it is not uncommon for a transplant center to voluntarily shut down after a living donor death. The cause of the donor death is still unknown and under investigation. The patient who received the kidney is stable and the transplanted kidney is working properly, according to news reports.

“The safety and well-being of our patients is our top priority, and every effort is being made to understand what happened. We are deeply saddened by this tragic event.” UCSF said in a written statement.

The UCSF kidney transplant program is one of the busiest in the country. From 2010 through 2014, the center performed 1,772 kidney transplants. NN&I has been ranking the most active kidney transplant centers for more than a decade. The University of San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) has been in the number one spot since 2009, and in the top five for many more years. But the difference between the top five is often minimal. In 2014, Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami was ranked number two, and performed only one less transplant than UCSF.

The program also has the longest kidney transplant waitlist.

Living kidney donor deaths in the United States

The risk of death for living kidney donors within 30 days of surgery is very low. Between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 23 2015, 12 living kidney donors have died in the United States within 30 days of donation from causes determined to be medical in nature, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN). “These deaths are not necessarily related to donation, although their proximity to the donation date increases the likelihood that they are donation-related deaths,” OPTN said in its report on living donor deaths. OPTN requires transplant centers to report living donor follow-up data for two years.

Between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 23 2015, five living kidney donors have died in the United States one to two years after donation from causes determined to be medical in nature, according to OPTN.As with deaths that occur closer to the time of donation, it is difficult to say if deaths 1-2 years after donation are related to the donation,” OPTN said in its report.

The data on long-term health outcomes for living donors is a bit murkier. “We’ve always assumed that living kidney donation is safe, and it is, but safety is a relative thing,” said Bertram Kasiske, MD, of Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He is the lead researcher of a three-year, follow-up study of living kidney donors and paired controls, funded by the National Institutes of Health, “There have not been the long-term studies with suitable controls that we need to prove the safety of living kidney donation over time.”

Kasiske’s study, published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, showed that immediately after donation, living donors show mild signs of kidney disease, but actually improve their kidney function over time.