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With almost 14,000 patients on the national liver transplant waiting list and a growing shortage of deceased-donor livers, living-donor liver transplantation gives many patients a chance to receive a transplant sooner and experience better outcomes.

Living donation would not be possible without the selflessness of living donors. And it’s important for potential donors to understand living donation — including the benefits and risks. Like any patient undergoing surgery, living donors face some level of risk. Before evaluating a potential donor, experts at the UPMC Liver Transplant Program meet personally with the individual. They discuss the benefits and risks of becoming a donor and explain the procedure, enabling potential donors to make an informed decision.

The program is dedicated to ensuring that every suitable donor can safely donate and that all their medical needs are met before, during, and after surgery.

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The Benefits of Living Donation: Why Become a Donor?

Patients on the waiting list can experience several clear benefits by identifying a suitable living donor, including a reduced wait time for surgery, improved outcomes, and ability to schedule the procedure when they are healthier.

Less obvious are the benefits that living donors experience.

Living donors are frequently active, energetic, and selfless people. They often have spent their lives helping and giving back to others. For donors, living-liver donation offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save the life of a friend, family member, or someone they have never met.

For donors like John Simpson, who donated a portion of his liver to a man he didn’t know, his decision meant a new perspective on life and a chance to help someone in need.

“It’s been a tremendous blessing to understand what the living donor process does for people,” says John. “Helping people is what it’s about.”

John’s donation not only saved the life of his recipient, it also made a positive impact on the entire transplant community.

By donating a portion of their liver and removing someone from the transplant wait list, living donors reduce the demand for deceased-donor livers. In saving the life of one person, every living organ donor saves other lives by contributing to a larger effort to eliminate an overall organ shortage.

The Risks for Living Donors

Just like any medical procedure, living donor surgery does carry some level of risk. But UPMC’s team of renowned transplant surgeons, hepatologists, and nurses work closely to ensure donor safety. Having experience with some of the most complex cases enables them to reduce the risk of complications during liver transplant surgery

Complications from transplant surgery rarely require corrective surgery or medical treatment. Many will resolve themselves or require only minor medical interventions.

The risks for living-donor liver transplant donors include:

  • Bile leakage: a minor complication that occurs in a small number of donors. This usually resolves itself, but doctors can place a tube in the liver to aid the healing process.
  • Infection: in rare cases, living-liver donors the donor may get develop an infection at the site of surgery. If this happens, the transplant team will closely track the condition.
  • Organ damage or other problems: living-liver donation can, in rare cases, cause organ damage or even death. Major complications are exceptionally rare because of the high level of experience and caution exercised by the UPMC Liver Transplant team.

To protect each living donor and reduce the risk of complications, UPMC experts perform a thorough transplant evaluation for every potential donor.

Living Donor Evaluation at UPMC

During the three-day evaluation process, a potential donor meets with multiple transplant specialists and is given many opportunities to ask questions of the transplant team. After taking a close look at medical and surgical history, specialists consult with the prospective donor. Those specialists include:

  • A transplant surgeon
  • A transplant hepatologist
  • A social worker
  • An independent living donor advocate
  • A nutritionist
  • A pharmacist
  • A behavioral medicine specialist (if necessary)

Potential donors also undergo diagnostic tests such as blood work, an electrocardiogram, and imaging of the liver through a CT scan and MRI test. If you smoke, you will also undergo a pulmonary function test. Anyone over the age of 45 also must complete a stress test.

These exams test the suitability of the potential donor’s liver and determine the donor’s physical, medical, and mental readiness, as well as a willingness to donate.

It’s the rigor of this examination process and the experience of our transplant team that allows both patients with end-stage liver disease and liver donors to experience the full benefits of living-donor liver transplantation.

To register for a living donor evaluation, visit livingdonorreg.upmc.com.

About Transplant Services

Established in 1981, UPMC Transplant Services is one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, including liver, kidney, pancreas, single and double lung, heart, and more. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and have a long history of developing new antirejection therapies—so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions.