Every year, more than 17,000 people are waiting to receive a new liver. Since only about 4,500 liver transplants are performed each year, however, people needing a transplant often stay on the waiting list for one to two years. Because of this shortage, about one out of every four people who need a new liver will die before one becomes available.
The purpose of liver donation is to replace a diseased liver with a healthy one. There are two ways to do this. One way is to get a liver from a deceased donor -- someone who has recently passed away. The second way is through a surgery called "adult living donor liver transplantation." In this procedure, the doctors take a portion of a liver from a living person (or donor) and transplant it into someone else.
Liver donation surgery is a major operation. The entire process takes about six to eight hours. Most people stay in the hospital for four to eight days afterwards and then continue to recover at home for another four to six weeks. You will also have a few follow-up appointments with your healthcare team after the surgery. During the next one to two months, the liver usually returns to its normal size and function.
(Click Adult Living Donor Liver Transplant for more information.)
Your first step when deciding to donate a liver is having several exams as part of your medical evaluation. The evaluation may discover certain health problems that you didn't know you had. While knowing this can be good for your future health, it may increase the costs of your health or life insurance, or make it harder to get insurance in the future.
If you qualify to donate part of your liver, and choose to do so, it's important to know that the donor surgery does have risks (see Liver Donation Surgery Complications).