Liver Donors: All You Need To Know

Patients needing a liver transplant may be surprised to know that liver donors do not have to be deceased. In the past orthotopic transplantation was the only option, requiring the whole liver to be removed from a deceased donor and passed to the recipient. Now, with new technology and procedures, a living donor liver transplant is completely possible. In this new procedure only a section of the liver will be removed from the liver transplant donor, relying on the liver’s natural regenerative properties to regrow liver tissue in both the donor and recipient. This has been a major advance in transplantation in children as a whole, child-sized liver is no longer needed for the operation.

The first liver transplant was performed by Thomas Starz in 1962, and the first successful operation that resulted in over a one-year survival was 1967. The survival rate has steadily increased throughout the years and now a patient can expect one-year survival rates of 85%, with some cases surviving for thirty years after the procedure.

The difference in living donor liver transplant types are relatively few. The terms living related donor and living unrelated donor refer to a possible familial connection between the donor and the recipient. Related donors are people that have a direct genealogical relationship with the donor, such as a child, parent, or sibling. The term unrelated donor usually means a person who has an emotional relationship, but none of the same bloodlines, with the recipient. For example, this person could be a friend, spouse, or colleague. However, there is no proven advantage to receiving a related or unrelated person’s liver. Both have the same success rates.

A potential live liver donor should also become aware of how the procedure is completed. The operation will begin after a donor has been given anesthesia. For the duration of the surgery, the donor will be unconscious. The doctor begins by making an incision along the flank. The piece of liver to be transplanted will be disconnected and removed from the body by use of rib spreaders. After the section has been removed, the incision will be closed using stitches. The possible side effects that may be experienced by a live liver donor are pneumonia, the clotting of blood, infection, pain, and injury occurring to other organs. It is possible, but extremely rare, for a patient to die after the procedure.

A liver transplant donor who has completed the operation will need to make some basic lifestyle changes until the liver has regenerated, which takes a period of up to eight weeks depending on how much was removed during the procedure. First and foremost, alcohol should not be drunk while the liver is recovering. Alcohol is dangerous to a liver’s function. The liver will grow back, but will not assume the original structure. If the section was taken from the right lobe, then the left lobe will grow back as enlarged to compensate. The advancement of medical technology has allowed more liver transplants to be done due to the increased numbers of liver donors.

Thomas Starz | anesthesia | translpant donor