July 22, 2021

Understanding liver transplants

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What to expect during the process of a liver transplant.

Your doctor can talk with you about why this may be the right time to prepare for a liver transplant. That might be because your liver is not working as it should. Or you may have a health condition that would be improved by a liver transplant.

A liver transplant means that your diseased or injured liver is removed. It’s replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. This article helps you understand the process leading up to your transplant. 

Your liver transplant evaluation

Before you are put on the waitlist for a donated liver, you’ll undergo an evaluation for a transplant. This takes place at a transplant center. It takes anywhere from several days to several weeks. It’s done on an outpatient basis. This means you go home at night instead of staying overnight in the hospital.

During the evaluation, your care team will check your general health, with blood work and imaging tests. They will make sure your body is strong enough to undergo transplant surgery. They’ll check the health of your heart and lungs, and recommend additional tests, such as a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer if you are more than 45 years old. You and your family will also learn more about transplantation. The transplant coordinator and the rest of the transplant team will talk to you about: 

  • The benefits and risks of a liver transplant 
  • Medicines needed after the transplant 
  • The possibility of organ rejection 
  • Health insurance and financial issues 
  • Options for organ donation 
  • The process of waiting for an organ 
  • What to expect during surgery 
  • Care and possible complications after surgery 
  • The emotional aspects for you and your family of waiting for a transplant
  • The emotional aspects of recovering after transplant surgery, and life-long medical care 
  • Travel plans for the transplant surgery 
  • The possibility of not finding an organ in time for a transplant 
  • Researching other centers with shorter waiting times 
  • The possibility of a living donor transplant 

Learn more about liver transplants

To find out whether you are a candidate for a liver transplant, speak to a transplant coordinator at 615-813-6430.

Where does a donated liver come from?

There are two sources of donated livers. In most cases, your new liver will come from an organ donor who has just died. This is called a deceased donor transplant. Before the surgery is done, a donated liver is screened for liver diseases and infections. It’s also checked to make sure it’s a match with your blood type. 

Sometimes a healthy living person will donate part of their liver. This is called a living donor transplant. This is often a family member who matches your blood type. Or it may be someone who is not related to you but whose blood type is a good match. 

The liver is the only organ in the body that can regrow (regenerate) its lost or injured tissue. The part of the liver removed from the living donor grows back after the transplant. The transplanted partial liver that you receive also grows to full size after the transplant. A living donation transplant can be scheduled ahead of time. It may be able to be done sooner than if you go on the waiting list for a non-living donor. Living donor transplants are less common than nonliving donor transplants. But they are now often done throughout the country. 

Waiting for a donated liver

More people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for a liver transplant than there are available donor livers. Getting a liver transplant can be a long process. It could be months or years before a donor liver is found for you. Here’s what will happen during this time: 

  • Your name is added to a waiting list. Very sick people are higher on the list than people who don’t need a transplant right away. If you have liver cancer or a rare disease, you may get a liver faster. 
  • Follow instructions for how to stay in contact with the transplant center. The transplant center keeps your status on the waiting list. If your liver disease gets worse or another health problem occurs, tell the transplant center right away. These events could change your position on the list. 
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The Vanderbilt Transplant Center‘s liver transplant specialists offer complete care for liver and bile duct diseases. The center’s surgeons have the expertise for dual-organ operations, including liver-heart and liver-kidney transplants, to help people with even the most complicated medical challenges. For more information, call 615-813-6430.

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