Every year in the United States, people with liver failure die waiting for a transplant because the need for donor organs is greater than the number of livers available for transplantation. Waiting for a donor liver from the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) is not the only option available to liver failure patients. Because of the liver’s amazing ability to regenerate, living liver donors can give part of their healthy liver to a transplant patient and end their long wait for treatment. Living liver donations can save the lives of countless people with end-stage liver disease.
The University of Chicago Medicine has been an important pioneer in the field of liver transplantation. In 1989, our surgical team performed the first successful living donor liver transplant: a parent gave part of her liver to her daughter.
Evaluation and Assessment
If you are considering living liver donation, our liver team will meet with you to discuss the procedure and evaluate your health. During your assessment, you meet with members of the liver transplant team and other medical staff as you go through a series of tests and procedures to help decide on whether you are a good candidate for living liver donation.
Frequently Asked Questions About Living Donor Liver Transplant
No. Although many people end up donating a part of their liver to someone in their family, it’s important to know that a person can choose to donate their liver to anyone, be they a friend, coworker or stranger.
In the United States, more than 13,000 people are on the waiting list to receive a liver, but approximately 1,500 patients die waiting for one each year. A living liver transplant can offer a potential recipient the chance for a transplant in a timely and intentional fashion.
Living liver donor surgery can be scheduled when the transplant recipient is in better health — ideally, before the onset of life-threatening complications — and help him or her have the best chance for a successful transplant.
Are you Eligible to be a Living Donor?
This questionnaire is for friends, family and others who are considering being a living donor.Take our living donor questionnaire
Information for Liver Donors
The liver transplant team at the University of Chicago Medicine is committed to safety and excellence in living donor liver transplant. Choosing to become a living liver donor is an important, personal decision, and we are here to answer any questions you have about living donation.
For an overview of living liver donation and an introduction to the donation evaluation process, watch our Living Donor Liver Transplant Education Video. If you have any questions, please contact our living donor coordinator or another member of the transplant team. They will answer your questions when you come in for an evaluation appointment.
If you are considering becoming a living liver donor, there are several requirements you must meet.
You must be between the ages of 18 and 55.
You must be willing to donate your liver of your own free well.
You must have:
- a healthy, normal functioning liver
- no significant medical illnesses
- a liver anatomy that is safe for donation (this is determined through sophisticated imaging)
- a compatible blood type to the recipient
You do not have to be related to the recipient to whom you would like to donate part of your liver.
If you’ve decided to be a living liver donor, you’ll go through a detailed evaluation process that includes blood tests and imaging studies to check the quality and anatomy of your liver. You’ll also meet with members of the liver transplant team and other medical specialists. These consultations, tests and procedures will rule out any medical, surgical, psychological or social barriers that would prevent you from safely donating part of your liver and help us determine whether you’re a good candidate for living liver donation.
As you begin the donation process, you’ll be assigned a living donor advocate and a nurse coordinator, who will help you navigate the evaluation process and answer any questions or concerns you may have.
Prior to surgery, you will be asked to refrain from certain activities to increase the success of the liver transplant:
- If you smoke, you should stop smoking at least one month before the surgery. Smoking adds risk to the surgery for both you and your recipient.
- Refrain from alcohol and drugs before surgery for at least one month.
- Tell your nurse coordinator about any medications you take.
- If you’re taking birth control pills, stop using them at least six weeks before the surgery in order to prevent dangerous blood clots after the operation. You may wish to consult with your gynecologist about alternative forms of birth control to use in the meantime.
During the procedure, your surgeon will determine how much of the liver is removed based on the age and size of the patient receiving the transplantation. If you are donating to a patient who requires a larger donor liver, your surgeon may take your right lobe, which is roughly 60% of your overall liver. For patients who require a smaller donor liver, you might donate the left lobe, 40% of your liver. After surgery both you and the transplant patient will have partial livers that will grow to provide normal liver function.
After surgery, you’ll be monitored closely for the first 24 hours. The next day, you’ll be transferred to the transplant floor where you’ll stay for up to one week to begin your recovery.
As with any major surgery, liver donation surgery can include complications. At UChicago Medicine, safety is our main priority; our team will evaluate all of the potential risks and discuss them with you before the procedure.
All medical costs related to donating a part of your liver are covered by your recipient patient’s insurance. If you’re being evaluated for or undergoing a living liver donation, the National Living Donor Assistance Center may help you with reimbursement for travel, lodging and food expenses. People who may not otherwise be able to afford to donate are given priority.
At The Forefront Live: Organ Donation
Organ and tissue donation is more important now than ever before. Dr. Talia Baker, director of UChicago Medicine’s liver transplant program, Iheoma Okeke-Banks from the non-profit organization Gift of Hope and liver transplant recipient Brad Goodman discuss.
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