Living donor liver transplant gives people with end-stage liver disease (liver failure) a chance at a healthier life. Living donor transplants also give donors an opportunity to help someone in need. After liver transplant surgery, both donors and recipients face their own recovery process.
Some aspects of recovery are the same for donors and recipients — you’ll both need time to rest and heal. But there are some differences too. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to donate part of your liver.
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What Happens During Living Donor Liver Transplant Surgery?
Living donor liver transplant is major surgery. Your transplant team will put you to sleep with medication (anesthesia). The team will insert flexible tubes (catheters) in your body to:
- Help you breathe
- Administer any drugs or fluids you might need
- Remove urine from your bladder
- Allow abdominal fluid to drain after surgery
Your surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen. At the same time, another surgical team in a separate operating room removes the diseased liver from the recipient. Doctors remove a piece of your healthy liver and transplant it into the recipient.
Most living donor liver transplant surgeries take between five and seven hours. When the team completes the surgery, you’ll move to a recovery area for observation. Then, you’ll move to a transplant recovery floor to continue healing.
About the Liver Transplant Donor Recovery Process
Every liver donor is different — and the time it takes you to recover from surgery will be different too. Most liver donors can go home from the hospital in about a week. You might need medication to manage pain after surgery or you might not.
But going home doesn’t mean you should jump back into family responsibilities and daily activities right away. You might feel strong and energetic, or you might feel fatigued and weak. Either way, your body needs time to heal after surgery.
One of the best ways to ensure a healthy recovery is to plan for what will happen after surgery. You should:
Arrange (or accept) help with home and childcare
If you have young children, you’ll need another adult to stay with you and provide childcare until you’re feeling better. Help around the house with meals, cleaning, and laundry is also a good idea in the weeks just after surgery.
Get help with transportation
Getting out of the house is good for you if you’re feeling up to it. But you’ll need someone else to do the driving for six to eight weeks after surgery.
Give yourself time
Many people feel ready to get back to activities they were doing before liver donation surgery in about eight weeks. But everyone is different. If you have a job that requires significant physical activity, you might need to ask for lighter duties or extra time.
Stay in touch with your transplant team
Your transplant team will give you specific instructions for how to take care of yourself after liver donation surgery. If you have questions or don’t feel well, get in touch right away. You’ll also need to see your team for follow-up visits, including laboratory tests to check your liver function.
How Is Recovery Different for Liver Transplant Recipients?
Liver transplant recipients also need time to heal and recover. But recipients stay in the hospital longer than donors — usually about two weeks. If you’ve received a liver, expect to spend time in the intensive care unit (ICU) in the days right after surgery.
Recipients also begin to take certain medications that donors don’t. Anti-rejection drugs (immunosuppressants) help keep the body from rejecting the new liver. Recipients usually take these medications for as long as they have their new liver.
People who’ve received a liver transplant will need a caregiver 24 hours a day for at least six weeks. Because recipients can’t drive for six to eight weeks after surgery, it’s important to have someone to drive you to follow-up appointments. You’ll have regular appointments to check your liver function and make sure you’re healing well.
Whether you’re a liver donor or a liver transplant recipient, it’s important to remember that recovery takes time. Your age, your health before surgery, and how well you follow your doctor’s instructions can affect how you heal.
American Liver Foundation, A Donor's Guide to Living-Donor Liver Transplant, Link.
UPMC Transplant Services, Liver Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedures, Link.
UPMC Transplant Services, Living-Donor Liver Transplant Frequently Asked Questions, Link.
UPMC Transplant Services, After Living-Donor Liver Transplant Surgery, Link.
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For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.