Three FAQs About Live Liver Donation

Linda Wood, RN, BSNLinda Wood, RN, BSN, is a live liver donor coordinator at the Penn Transplant Institute. Linda has provided care to patients as a registered nurse for more than 20 years. In this article, she answers three of the most commonly asked questions about live donor liver transplantation.

Is it safe to be a living liver donor?

Protecting the donor's safety, health and well-being are the primary goals of the Penn Live Liver Donor Team’s 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 in detail for the donor during the evaluation. National studies have shown that approximately one-third of donors have some sort of postoperative complication and the great majority of complications are minor, reversible, or resolve on their own.

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 the average person being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Who can be a donor?

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

  • Have a compatible blood type
  • Be physically fit and have no significant medical problems
  • Not be obese based on the 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

Evaluating possible donors from outside the Greater Philadelphia Region 

The Penn Live Donor Liver team has developed a special evaluation protocol to meet the needs of long distance donors that helps to minimize their time away from home. It's important to note that after donation takes place and the donor is discharged from the hospital, it will be necessary for the donor to stay local to Philadelphia for approximately three to four weeks in order to make sure the recovery is proceeding as expected.

The recipient’s insurance will cover most medical/evaluation-related expenses for the donor, including testing/consults/surgery/hospitalization/and the first three months of post-operative follow-up and testing. The insurance may or may not pay for travel, lodging, and meal expenses incurred during the evaluation and transplant process. Donor candidates should ask our financial coordinators regarding coverage of those expenses. The National Living Donor Assistance Center offers financial support for travel costs associated with live donation.

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