Dealing with emotions during the LDLT process

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with liver failure, a liver transplant can save your life. During living-donor liver transplant surgery, doctors replace your diseased liver with a healthy donated liver.

This type of transplant is possible because the liver grows back (regenerates) in both the donor and the recipient.

Choosing living-donor liver transplant is a big decision for both you and your donor. You may experience different emotions throughout the process. Below are a few common emotions among people who receive a liver from a living donor — and how to cope with the feelings that may arise.

Common Emotions for People Who Receive a Living Donor Liver Transplant

Having a lot of different emotions about your transplant is normal. People who have living-donor liver transplant surgery may feel one or more of these common emotions:

  • Excessive worry – You might be fearful that your body will reject your new liver, or that liver failure will return. You might also worry that your donor will become ill or will not recover from surgery.
  • Depression – You’ll have to make lifestyle changes (like what you eat and whether you drink alcohol) to help keep your new liver healthy. This may cause you to feel depressed as you adjust to your new life.
  • HelplessnessYou’ll need help with household tasks and family responsibilities after surgery. You won’t be able to drive until your doctors say you can (usually about six to eight weeks after surgery). Relying on others may feel difficult.
  • Anxiety – You might feel anxious about how the future will be. You might think a lot about your health and whether you will be able to meet financial obligations. You may also feel anxious about returning to work or meeting family responsibilities.
  • Guilt – Feeling guilty about making this request of your liver donor. You might also feel like you are a burden on those you love. Some transplant recipients feel guilty about getting a new liver when other people who need transplanted are still waiting.

Your transplant team will evaluate you and your donor to make sure you are both physically and psychologically ready for liver transplant. Talk with your social worker or doctors about any concerns you have or feelings you are experiencing.

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Coping After Organ Transplant

After living-donor liver transplant surgery, you’ll stay in the hospital — usually for about a week. Your donor will also stay in the hospital between four and seven days while they recover from surgery.

When you both return home, you and your donor can expect to:

  • Be out of work for a while for a few weeks
  • Be unable to drive for about four weeks.
  • Need help caring for children and pets.
  • Have follow-up appointments.
  • Be unable to lift heavy objects (for about six weeks).

Some people struggle with coping after organ transplant. Transplant support groups can help you know what to expect and find others who understand what you are experiencing. There are also organizations that offer financial help, including:

If you or your donor are having trouble managing your feelings after liver transplant surgery, talk with your doctor. They can refer you to counseling or connect you with resources and programs that can help.

Finding a Living-Liver Donor

Requesting that someone be a liver donor is a big ask. That’s why doctors make sure potential donors understand the transplant process and how it might affect them. Your donor will need someone to help take care of them as they recover from surgery.

Your donor doesn’t need to be a relative. But they must:

  • Be a healthy adult between the ages of 18 and 55.
  • Be free from cancer and infections (including HIV).
  • Not be obese (their body mass index, or BMI, cannot be more than 32).
  • Not have heart, kidney, or lung disease.
  • Not use alcohol or other substances.
  • Be medically compatible with you (have blood and tissue types that work with yours).

You and your donor will both need to understand the risks of liver donation surgery. These risks can include blood clots, infection, bile leaks, and other complications. Your donor must make the decision to donate simply because they wish to help you.

Sources

Transplantology, Mental Health and Well-Being of Solid Organ Transplant Donors. The Forgotten Sacrifices, July 2021, https://www.mdpi.com/2673-3943/2/3/26

United Network for Organ Sharing, After the Transplant, https://transplantliving.org/after-the-transplant/

UMPC, Living Donor: A Social Media Toolkit for Champions, https://www.upmc.com/-/media/upmc/campaigns/transplant/ldlt/documents/upmc-living-donor-champion-toolkit.pdf

UPMC Transplant Services, Benefits and Risks of Living-Donor Liver Transplant, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/liver/living-donor/benefits-risks

UPMC Transplant Services, After Living-Donor Liver Transplant Surgery, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/liver/living-donor/process/after

About Transplant Services

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.