Living Liver Donation Overview

Jessica (left) is a living liver donor, mom, and ATF 1+1=LIFE Mentor – pictured with David Crosby and her father (liver recipient.)

A liver transplant is a surgical procedure done in some patients with liver failure to replace their diseased liver with a healthy liver. When a patient receives a liver transplant, his or her entire liver is removed. It is then replaced by a portion of the donor’s healthy liver.  A living donor is often the only option for those who have become too sick to wait for a deceased donor transplant and typically those who receive an organ from a live donor have a greater lifetime expectancy post transplant.

It is important to note that living liver donation has a higher complication rate when compared to living kidney donation and a longer recovery time is expected (2-4 months).  On the other hand, liver transplantation, including live donation, has become more and more common and surgical techniques have significantly advanced over the past ten years.

While many transplant centers perform liver transplant surgeries, not all perform living liver donation and very few perform non-directed liver donation (donating to a stranger.)  When considering becoming a liver donor, it is important to contact your local transplant center to determine what type of surgeries they perform.

Studies have shown that donating part of the liver does not affect a donor woman’s ability to have children. However, it is important for doctors to know if a living donor plans on having children. This is recommended so that the doctors can prescribe the best medication for the patient’s situation.

Surgery

In living liver donor surgery, the donor and the recipient are placed in side-by-side operating rooms. A surgeon removes a part of the donor’s liver, typically the right half. This donated segment of the liver is then immediately placed in the recipient in the next operating room.  Many liver transplant surgeries are done laparoscopically, leaving only small incision scars.

The remaining part of the donor’s liver is sufficient to maintain normal body functions. The recipient also receives a large enough segment of the donor liver to maintain body functions.

During approximately the next two months, the remaining and transplanted parts of the donor liver grow to normal size, providing normal long-term liver function for the donor and the recipient.

Benefits

There are many benefits of receiving a liver from a living donor:

  • No waiting period
  • Surgeries can be scheduled at a convenient time for both the donor and the recipient
  • A liver from a living donor typically lasts longer than a liver from a deceased donor
  • A living liver transplant can be scheduled electively and before the onset of life-threatening complications while waiting for a liver from a deceased donor

Statistics

  • 160,722 liver transplants from 1988 through August of 2018 *
  • Nearly 14,000 people on waiting list for a liver transplant as of August, 2018; 114,362 currently on the waiting list total*
  • Due to the organ shortage, over 6,000 precious lives are lost just in America each year. Over 1,400 of these deaths are those waiting on a liver transplant
  • In 2017, 367 liver transplants were made possible by living donors

Data source: Unos.org

Additional Resources

About Living Donation

Facts about Transplant and Living Donation

Janet, Liver Transplant Recipient, 1+1=LIFE Mentor

Click here to learn more about becoming a peer Mentor like Janet or to receive one-on-one support from a peer Mentor.