traveling to Pittsburgh

You found out that a loved one needs a life-saving liver transplant, and you want to help. You fill out the living donor registration form and are contacted by a member of the UPMC Living Donor Transplant Team.

Now it’s time to go to Pittsburgh and be evaluated as a living donor. The only problem is you live hours away.

As a potential donor that lives far from UPMC, you may have concerns about finding time to go through the evaluation process or being far away from home during a major surgery. To help alleviate some of that stress, we’ll answer five frequently asked questions from living donors outside of Pittsburgh with some help from Barb Csehoski – a living donor from Virginia.

Why Can’t I Undergo an Evaluation at a Hospital Near My Home?

Not all hospitals perform living-donor liver transplants, which means not all hospitals evaluate living donors. Even if another hospital evaluates living donors, the process is extremely extensive with very specific tests and can differ slightly from center to center.

Before clearing anyone to be a living donor, the UPMC Living Donor Transplant team must make sure all their requirements are met. But the team will do everything they can to make it easier for you.

“The transplant team was very helpful in planning my procedures based on my travel schedule,” said Barbara, “For example, if I wasn’t traveling until the evening then my procedures were scheduled for early the next morning, or if I was traveling in the morning then they scheduled my procedures for the afternoon.”

Donor safety is the number one priority for the transplant team. The best way to ensure donor safety is for the team to evaluate every potential donor.

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Where Will I Stay When I’m in Pittsburgh After the Surgery?

After the transplant, donors typically spend about one week in the hospital before being discharged. Depending on their condition, donors may need to stay in Pittsburgh for a few days or even a couple of weeks after surgery. For someone who lives hours away, that could be difficult.

“I received a grant that paid for my housing and meals. This was a huge help, as being a distant donor could be quite costly. The transplant team gave me information and contact numbers for local hotels that had UPMC specific rates.”

Many of our transplant patients stay at Family House, a local nonprofit that provides affordable housing and need-based discounts to patients receiving care at UPMC.

Can I be Reimbursed For Travel Costs?

The living donor’s medical costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance. But other costs, like travel costs, lodging, and lost wages are not covered. It is illegal for donors to receive payment for living donation. The recipient may be able to pay for some of these costs. Speak to the financial advisor on your transplant team for more information.

There are also grants available for living donors to help them with travel expenses, but you must be proactive and apply as early as you can.

“I was fortunate enough to qualify for a grant through the National Living Donor Assistance Center, based on the recipient’s income. This allowed me to plan my visits for evaluation and testing as overnight trips without having the financial hardship of meals and hotel. It also allowed for someone to travel with me for emotional support.”

Do I Have to Travel Back to Pittsburgh For Every Follow-Up Appointment?

To monitor your health and recovery, you will have a series of follow-up appointments, usually at UPMC Montefiore. Most of the time you can see your primary care physician unless there is a major issue.

“The team coordinated to allow me to have blood drawn locally and have it sent to UPMC for processing to avoid an extra trip. Luckily, my primary care physician was willing to do the draw which saved me a drive to UPMC.”

Work with the transplant team and your primary care physician to come up with a follow-up appointment plan post-surgery.

What Can I Do to Make It Easier on Me?

No matter where you live, being a living donor is a big deal. It can be difficult at times, especially from far away, but there are different things you can do to help make the process go as smoothly as possible.

“I would recommend reaching out to friends and family and develop a support group early. People want to help when they hear that you are being a living donor, and you shouldn’t be too proud to let them.”

Working with your support system will help you return to your healthy life as soon as possible. All the extra travel will be worth it once you see your recipient healthy after years of sickness.

“I would be a donor again if I could. It makes my heart happy to see how well my recipient is doing and that I have hopefully given him many more years of a healthy life.”

If you are interested in saving a life as a living donor, visit UPMC.com/LivingDonor for more information.

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.