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For the Donor

Who can be a living liver donor?

To qualify as a living liver donor, an individual must:

  • Have a compatible blood type
  • Be physically fit and have no significant medical problems
  • Not be obese based on Body Mass Index
  • Be between 21 and 50 years of age; however, slightly younger or slightly older candidates may be considered on a case-by-case basis<
  • Have health insurance
  • Be a family member, friend or acquaintance of the recipient or their family

Is it safe to be a living liver donor?

Protecting the donor’s safety, health and well-being are the primary goals of the evaluation process. As with any major surgery, there are some risks associated with living liver donation. While serious complications are rare, as with any surgery, they are possible.

All risks are outlined for the donor before the evaluation. National studies have shown that approximately one third of donors have some sort of postoperative complication, but the great majority of complications are minor and reversible.

Potential serious side effects include bleeding, infection, liver failure, injury to the bile duct, complications from general anesthesia and death. The risk of death from being a living liver donor in the United States is less than 0.2 percent, which is similar to the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

What special considerations are there for liver donors who travel from a distance for surgery?

There is a special protocol in place to meet the needs of distance liver donors and minimize their time away from home. It’s important to note that it will be necessary to stay local to Philadelphia approximately three to four weeks after discharge from the hospital to ensure that recovery is proceeding as expected. To accommodate patients, the Penn Transplant Institute offers lodging at the Clyde F. Barker Penn Transplant House, a guest house for transplant patients and their families and caregivers.

Although the recipient’s insurance covers all medical related expenses, it does not always pay for travel, lodging and meal expenses incurred during the evaluation and transplant process.

Does the liver transplant evaluation have to be done at Penn?

Generally, all screening tests are performed at Penn. If the donor lives at a distance, some portions of the initial evaluation may be done at a local healthcare facility.

How long will I be in the hospital after donating my liver?

Most donors remain in the hospital for approximately five days.

What can be expected during recovery after donating my liver?

After leaving the hospital, living liver donors are encouraged to slowly resume normal activity. Donors are not able to drive for six weeks after discharge and are not permitted to lift heavy objects and therefore may need assistance during this period of time.

How long is the recovery after donating a liver?

Donors are active at home one week after surgery and gradually increase their strength. The typical recovery period is eight to 10 weeks.

Will my liver grow back after I donate a portion of it?

Yes. Typically within three months of surgery, the liver will have regrown 90 to 95 percent of its original volume.

How long will I be out of work after donating my liver?

Many living liver donors return to work on a part-time basis as early as four to six weeks after surgery. Heavy lifting or strenuous physical activity is restricted for six weeks and until the donor is cleared to do so. Returning to full-time work may take up to two months, depending on the nature of the donor’s work.

What type of follow-up care is required for liver donors?

A follow-up appointment takes place one week after discharge with a focus on ensuring proper healing and pain management. Two follow-up appointments will be scheduled within the first month. If the liver donor is recovering as expected, he or she will be seen at three months, six months, one year and two years after surgery. Additional appointments may be necessary depending on the donor’s recovery. Donors are encouraged to receive their follow up care at Penn; however, care will be coordinated with local centers for those donors who travel from a distance for their surgery.

Will donating my liver impair my ability to have children?

Becoming a living liver donor will have no impact on having children in the future.

Is there a chance that the recipients liver condition with reoccur or persist even after surgery?

There are certain conditions that could reoccur. Every effort is made to fully inform the donor and recipient of all treatment options available and the projected success rate of each.

What happens if I decide not to become a living liver donor?

If at any point the prospective donor chooses not to pursue the evaluation process they may stop, for any reason. This decision is considered private health information and is protected by federal HIPPA regulations. The recipient will be informed that the donor is not suitable and will remain active on the transplant list. The recipient is also free to find another potential living donor.

For the Recipient

What are the advantages of having a living donor?

Living liver donation offers many benefits. The main advantage is that the recipient does not have to wait for a liver to become available and avoids the risk of dying before a deceased donor liver becomes available. With a living donor, surgery can be scheduled at a time that is optimal, for both the donor and the recipient, based on the recipient’s health.

Are living donor liver transplants as effective as deceased donor liver transplants?

Recent studies have demonstrated that recipients of living donor liver transplants have as good and sometimes better outcomes than recipients of deceased donor liver transplants.

Does the liver donor need to be a relative?

The donor does not have to be blood related. Any healthy person can give a friend or relative the gift of life; however, typically donors have some sort of a relationship with the intended recipient or their family.

Can I be listed as a transplant center other than Penn while a potential donor is being evaluated on my behalf at Penn?

UNOS policy permits patients to be added to the transplant waiting list at multiple centers. Additional information about multiple listing can be found on the UNOS website.

For the Caregiver

What level of care will I need to provide to the liver donor after surgery?

While light physical activity is encouraged following surgery, the liver donor is restricted from lifting objects heavier than 15 pounds for at least the first month. Assistance may be needed with daily living activities such as lifting children and groceries. Since the donor will be restricted from driving for three or four weeks after discharge, he or she may also need transportation assistance.

What medications need to be administered to the liver donor during recovery?

Following surgery, the liver donor will be prescribed pain medications to manage any pain and discomfort.

For Referring Physicians

Are living donor liver transplants as effective as deceased donor liver transplants?

Contrary to previous research, recent studies have demonstrated that recipients of living donor liver transplants have as good and sometimes better outcomes than recipients of deceased donor liver transplants.

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