Living Liver Donation: What You Need to Know

Sisters, Symia and Lamyh Wilson, both liver donation recipients. Read their story here.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are over 17,000 people awaiting a liver transplant in the United States alone. This troubling statistic underscores how urgent the need for liver donors really is. If you’ve been thinking about becoming a living liver donor, below is a general overview of the donation process, so that you can make a solid, well-informed decision.

  1. Evaluation 

The main purpose of the evaluation phase is to determine whether or not you will be a compatible match for the transplant recipient, and to confirm that you are medically fit to be a liver donor. Generally speaking, suitable donors must be between 18-55 years old, in good health, and have a blood type that is compatible with that of the recipient. During the first phase of your evaluation, you will undergo lab screening and tissue typing, and you will be required to fill out a liver donor questionnaire. Some common tests that are performed during this stage are:

* Urine test

* Blood tests

* Echocardiogram

* Mammogram (women 40+ years of age)

* Colonoscopy (50+ years of age)

Once these test results are analyzed and determined to be satisfactory, your next step will be to meet with the live donor team in order to discuss all of the details and potential risks of the procedure. Additional testing (e.g., X-rays, radiologic testing, etc.) may also be performed, and you will also undergo a series of evaluations conducted by a psychologist, nurse coordinator, social worker, and donor advocate. You might have to undergo further testing based on the results of your evaluations.

After these steps have been completed, your case will be reviewed by a multidisciplinary donor transplant team that includes psychologists, surgeons, social workers, nurse coordinators, and donor advocates. Their main job is to provide you with information and support, and they will prioritize your best interests throughout every phase of the donation process. It is important to note that at any time during the process (even up to the moment of the surgery), you have the right to change your mind about donating.

  1. The Surgery 

Once you’ve been given the green light for donation, your surgery will be scheduled anywhere between 4 to 6 weeks in advance. The typical liver transplant surgery takes about 5 hours to complete, and you can expect to stay in the hospital for about 7 days total. Even after you are released from the hospital, you will need an additional six to eight weeks to recover from the surgery.

The amazing thing about the liver is that it is the only organ in the human body that can regenerate itself, so when you donate your liver, you’re not actually donating the entire organ. Instead, the surgeon will remove between 40-60% of your liver, the majority of which will grow right back within two weeks after the surgery. The portion of the liver that the transplant recipient receives will also grow to a normal size only a few weeks after the surgery takes place.

  1. The Recovery
    After you’ve been discharged from the hospital, you will need at least 6 weeks to achieve a full recovery. During this time, it is recommended that you do not lift any heavy objects (anything over 20 pounds), and that you engage only in very light exercise such as walking several times a day. During your recovery period, you will make routine clinic visits and undergo regular laboratory tests so that your transplant team can closely monitor your progress.

Statistics show that the average transplant candidate will wait over 300 days to receive a second chance at life. For a patient who is seriously ill due to liver failure, each day can seem like an eternity. Becoming a living liver donor will give you the opportunity to dramatically improve the quality of another person’s life, and in some cases, you could even save their life. To find out more about liver donation, be sure to visit our Facts & FAQs page.

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