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Liver Transplant -- Donor's Perspective Overview

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Reviewed By: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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Now let's look at the donation surgery -- what will happen, the possible benefits, and the risks. If you qualify to be a donor and decide to donate, these topics will be explained in more detail, or you can choose to learn more a little later in this presentation.
To begin the donation surgery, you will be given general anesthesia, which puts you into a deep sleep. A large incision, or cut, will then be made in your abdomen about 2 finger widths below the rib cage. The length of your incision will depend on your body size, but it's usually about 15 inches for the average person.
Then, a section of your liver (usually about 40 to 60%) will be removed. Your doctor will leave the other section, or "lobe," still functioning inside you. The gallbladder is usually removed and discarded. You will lead a normal life without your gallbladder.
Your doctor will repair the cut parts of the remaining lobe, and once satisfied that the liver is working properly, he or she will close the incision with stitches and/or surgical staples. The area is then covered with a bandage.
The entire surgery takes about 6 to 8 hours.
Most people stay in the hospital for 4 to 8 days after donating part of their liver, and then continue to recover at home for another 4 to 6 weeks. You will also have a few follow-up appointments with your healthcare team after the surgery. During the next 1 to 2 months, the liver usually returns to its normal size and function.
It's important to know that there are no direct medical benefits to you as a liver donor. Your health will not improve. However, there are some potential indirect benefits. During the evaluation process, your healthcare team may find that you have certain medical conditions that you didn't know about before. This can be very important to your future health. If a condition is discovered, your transplant team will let you and your primary care provider know. As an additional benefit, some donors also find that they have an increased self-esteem after donating part of their liver.
While these are possible benefits, liver donors also face risks. Some of these are minor and some can be more serious. A few of the more common risks of this surgery include:
* Bile leakage
* Pressure damage to nerves and skin
* A slow return to normal intestinal function
* Hernia
* And infection
A few of the more rare, but serious, risks can include:
* Liver failure, meaning that you would need a liver transplant yourself
* And death, which happens in about 1 out of every 500 liver donation surgeries in the U.S.
Nationwide, the overall risk for minor or major problems happening is about 2 out of every 7 cases. Most of these problems are minor and get better on their own. Major problems happen in less than 1 out of 10 surgeries.
A few people who donate other organs, such as a kidney, have emotional or psychological problems after their surgery. These problems are usually only temporary. Since living donor liver transplantation is still a fairly new surgery, we don't know the exact percentage of liver donors who will have these problems.
If you do decide to donate, all of these risks will be covered in more detail before your surgery.


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