What to Ask Your Doctor About Living Donor Liver Transplant

If you have end-stage liver failure, a liver transplant can save your life. During a living-donor liver transplant, surgeons remove your diseased liver and replace it with a healthy one.

Many donated livers come from deceased donors. But because the liver is the only organ that can regenerate, living-donor liver transplant may be an option.

According to the American Liver Foundation, more than 11,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a liver transplant. A living-donor liver transplant can reduce the time you spend on the waiting list and helps restore your health more quickly.

Here are some key questions about living-donor liver transplant that you can discuss with your doctor.

What Happens During Living-Donor Liver Transplant?

During living-donor liver transplant, both you and your donor will have surgery at the same time. Surgeons remove a piece of the donor’s healthy liver. After removing your diseased liver, doctors insert, or transplant, the piece of healthy liver into your body.

In about three months, you and your donor’s liver will regrow back to full size.

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Who Can Donate Part of Their Liver to Me?

Any healthy person who meets the criteria below can become a living donor. In fact, almost 6,000 living organ donations (including liver donations) occur each year. Doctors will need to test your potential donor to confirm they are compatible with you.

Living donors must be:

  • Healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55.
  • Not be obese (BMI must be 32 or less).
  • Free of drugs and alcohol.
  • No history of liver disease, infection, and cancer.

Typically, a living-liver donor will be a family member or friend.

What Makes Someone a Good Liver Donor for Me?

To ensure that your donor is compatible, doctors will test both you and your potential donor.

This includes testing such as:

  • Blood type: Your donor’s blood type (O, A, B, or AB) will need compatible with yours. A donor with blood type O is compatible with all blood types.
  • Crossmatching: This blood tests checks for certain antibodies, or proteins, in the immune system that fight foreign substances. Some antibodies could cause your body to reject the new liver.
  • Tissue type: Certain white blood cell types must match between you and your donor for the transplant to be successful.

Talk with your doctor about other needed tests to see if a donor is a compatible.

What Happens After Living-Donor Liver Transplant Surgery?

After transplant surgery, you will stay in the hospital to make sure your new liver is working properly. You will also take immunosuppressant drugs to keep your immune system from attacking your new liver.

Doctors and nurses will conduct several tests to see if there are any complications with your liver. They will also test other organs, such as your lungs and kidneys, to make sure they are working normally.

Your donor will stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery. Once doctors are sure your donor is healthy, they will be able to go home.

What Kind of Follow-up Care Will I Need After Living-Donor Liver Transplant?

After transplant surgery, you will see your doctor regularly to check your liver’s function. Doctors will check your blood to make sure your body is not fighting or rejecting your new liver.

Your doctor will also make sure you are not experiencing complications after liver transplant, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Blocked liver ducts (tubes that carry bile to the small intestine)

Is Living-Donor Liver Transplant Right for Me?

Living-donor liver transplant surgery is not right for everyone. There are some restrictions on who can receive a liver transplant (whether the donor is living or deceased).

Talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of liver transplant based on your overall health, age, and lifestyle.

Sources

Donate Life America, Liver Donation, https://www.donatelife.net/types-of-donation/liver-donation/

Health Resources & Services Administration, The Living Donor Process, https://www.organdonor.gov/about/process/living-donation.html

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Liver Transplant Surgery, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/liver-transplant/liver-transplant-surgery

United Network for Organ Sharing, Living Donation, https://unos.org/transplant/living-donation/

United Network for Organ Sharing, Tests for Living Donation, https://transplantliving.org/living-donation/being-a-living-donor/tests/

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