Living-Donor Liver Transplant: First-Line Treatment, Not Last Resort

More than 11,000 Americans are currently on the waitlist for a liver transplant. Most liver transplants happen because a stranger generously planned to donate their organs after death. But only about 5,000 deceased-donor livers become available each year.

Fortunately, people with end-stage liver disease may have another option: living-donor liver transplant.

What Is Living-Donor Liver Transplant?

In living-liver donation, doctors remove part of a healthy donor’s liver and transplant it into the recipient.

This lifesaving surgery is possible because the liver has a unique ability to regenerate. That means both the donor and recipients’ liver will regrow to their original size within about three months of surgery.

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Benefits of Living-Donor Liver Transplantation

Living donor transplants offer several benefits to people with end-stage liver disease. These benefits include:

  • Shorter waiting time: Living donors are often part of the recipient’s family and highly motivated, so surgery can happen quickly.
  • Able to occur while recipient is relatively healthy: How sick you are partially determines your place on the transplant waiting list. Living-donor transplants bypass the list.
  • Scheduled surgery: Living-liver donors and transplant recipients can schedule surgery at a time that works for both people.
  • Helps improve the organ shortage problem: Living-liver donor transplants reduce the number of people waiting for organs from deceased donors.
  • Better results: Recipients of living-donor organs often have shorter hospital stays. They may be less likely to need blood transfusions or dialysis during recovery. They may also have better long-term survival rates.

Who Can Be a Living Liver Donor?

In order to become a living donor, you must be healthy and:

  • Between the ages of 18 and 60.
  • In good physical and mental health.
  • Have a BMI of 32 or less.
  • Free of active, ongoing drug or substance use.
  • Have an unselfish desire to contribute to another person’s life.
  • Have no history of liver disease or diseases of the lungs, kidneys, or heart. HIV and active cancer also disqualify potential donors.

Talk to Your Doctor About Living-Donor Transplant

At UPMC, doctors consider living-donor liver transplants to be a first-line treatment, not a last resort. They make sure that patients who come for transplant evaluation discuss living-donor liver transplant early in the process.

Patients need to understand all their options to make an informed decision.

UPMC Leads the Nation in Total Living-Liver Donation

The UPMC Liver Transplant Program at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute is one of the oldest and largest in the U.S. UPMC also leads the nation in total living-donor liver transplants. As of May 2022, UPMC has performed more than 1,350 living-donor liver transplants, both adult and pediatric.

The one-year survival rate for living-donor liver transplants at UPMC is 87% to 93%. The five-year survival rate is more than 75%.

Referring physicians refer potential transplant patients to UPMC and request they perform a liver transplant evaluation. Patients can also self-refer to request a transplant evaluation.

For more information on liver transplantation at UPMC, visit our website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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.