If you have end-stage liver failure, liver transplant can restore your health. During this life-saving surgery, doctors remove your diseased liver and replace it with donated healthy liver tissue.
The liver transplant surgery process begins with an evaluation. During this evaluation, your transplant team will:
- Conduct a physical examination.
- Talk with you about your medical history.
- Check to see if you have any infections.
- Test your blood to see how your liver and kidneys are functioning.
You will have imaging tests like ultrasounds and X-rays to check blood flow in your liver. Specialists will also check your heart and lungs to see how they function. Your doctors will also make sure you do not have any cancer outside your liver.
Once the transplant team confirms you are a good candidate for liver transplant, it’s time to consider your options. You will meet with social workers to ensure you understand the benefits and risks of liver transplant. You will also meet with a financial counselor to review your insurance and how you’ll manage any costs associated with transplant surgery.
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Is Living-Donor Liver Transplant Right for You?
Many people who have liver transplant surgery receive a new liver from a deceased donor. But receiving a new liver from a living donor makes preparing for liver transplant a little easier. You will not have to stay on a transplant waiting list, and you can plan when your surgery will occur.
Living donors provide part of a healthy liver, which then regenerates in both the donor and recipient in eight to 12 weeks.
Once you are approved for living-donor liver transplant, your next step is to find a suitable donor. According to UPMC Transplant Services, you need a donor who is:
- A healthy adult between the ages of 18 and 55.
- At a healthy weight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 32 or less.
- Free from cancer and infections (including HIV).
- Not an alcohol or recreational drug user.
- Free from heart, kidney, and lung disease.
. You and your donor will both need to have blood tests to learn whether you have compatible blood and tissue types. Ensuring this medical compatibility improves the chances that liver transplant will be successful.
Preparing for Liver Transplant Surgery
Once doctors confirm a suitable living liver donor, it is time to get ready for transplant surgery. Surgeons may schedule surgery as soon as four to six weeks after all match testing is complete. Your transplant team will provide guidelines for what you should do in the weeks before surgery.
These guidelines include things that are good for your overall health, such as:
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs.
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Keeping up with preventive health screenings (such as colonoscopy).
- Not smoking or using tobacco products.
- Staying active each day.
Doctors may also recommend that you take certain precautions right before your surgery. They may want you to:
- Stop taking birth control, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Avoid taking herbal supplements.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you are taking. Remember to include vitamins, supplements, and birth control pills.
Preparing for Liver Transplant Recovery
Because liver transplant is major surgery, plan on at least a month to recover (your hospital stay may be up to two weeks). During this time, you will see your doctor for follow-up care to make sure your new liver is functioning well. You will also begin taking immunosuppressants, drugs that prevent your immune system from attacking your new liver.
One of the best ways to prepare for liver transplant is to think about, and arrange for, the support you will need after surgery. This support can include:
- Someone to manage information and organize helpers. Choose someone you trust to share updates on your condition with friends and family and take charge of efforts like meal donations.
- Help with child and pet care. Make childcare arrangements for the first weeks after surgery and line up a helper who can walk the dog.
- Shopping and errand help. Arrange for someone to help with shopping and errands or sign up for online grocery shopping and delivery service.
- Transportation help. Recruit someone to drive you to follow-up care appointments.
Talk with your doctor about when you can begin your regular activities. How quickly you recover from transplant surgery depends on your overall health and how your body reacts to the new liver. According to the American Liver Foundation, many people are able to resume normal activities within six to 12 months.
If you work outside the home, be sure to keep your employer informed about when you expect to return to work. If you work at a desk, you might be able to return to work within a month. If your job is physically demanding, doctors may recommend waiting longer.
UPMC Transplant Services, Before Your Liver Transplant, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/liver/process/before
UPMC Transplant Services, Liver Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedure, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/liver/process/surgery
United Network for Organ Sharing, Liver,
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.