Liver Transplant

Living Donor Liver Transplant Program

About 20 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. If you or a loved one is in need of a liver transplant, a living donor transplant may be the best option. 

Live donation offers patients the option of transplant before they get seriously ill, regardless of their MELD score, and significantly decreases the time they wait for a liver. Emory Transplant Center has placed a concerted effort to continue growing our living liver donor program in 2021 and beyond.

How Living Liver Donation Works

A living donor transplant takes a portion of the liver from a healthy living person and places it into the person needing a liver transplant. A healthy liver has the unique ability to regenerate and grow; therefore, soon after surgery, the portions of the liver in both the donor and the transplanted patient begin to grow to nearly the size of a whole liver - providing normal long-term liver function for both the donor and the recipient. This is what makes living liver donor transplants possible.

Benefits of Living Liver Donation

At Emory Transplant Center, we are performing a growing number of living donor transplant procedures, which brings many benefits to our patients. These include:

  • Reduced Wait Times and Less Risk - donors and patients who are found to be suitable for living donor liver transplants can schedule surgery at a time that works best for them. This means transplants can occur sooner and reduces the risk of dying while waiting for a liver transplant.
  • Healthier Outcomes for Patients - liver transplants from living donors can provide better long-term health outcomes and quicker recovery times.
  • Organ Lasts Longer - a liver from a living donor typically lasts longer than a liver from a deceased donor.

How to Become a Liver Donor

If you are interested in becoming a living liver donor, the first step in the process is to register by completing the form found at the link below. There are requirements to becoming a living donor - see eligibility criteria below. Once the registration form is completed, a representative will contact you within 2 business days.

Who Can Donate

Typically, people who sign up to be a liver donor often know the patient who will receive part of their liver. Most often donors are relatives, friends or close contacts of the person needing a new liver.

To qualify as a living liver donor, you must meet specific requirements. Potential liver donors should:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 55
  • Not smoke for at least six weeks before surgery
  • Be able, willing, and ready to follow instructions
  • Be a healthy weight
  • Have health insurance
  • Not use drugs
  • Be in good health and not have any major medical or psychiatric conditions
  • Have healthy liver and kidney function
  • Not be pregnant
  • Have a blood type that is compatible with the recipient
  • Stay off birth control pills for at least six weeks before and after surgery
  • Be willing to refrain from drinking alcohol until fully recovered
  • Be ready to commit to the pre-donation evaluation process, surgery and recovery
  • Not have a history of cancer, diabetes, HIV, liver disease, pulmonary hypertension or conditions involving the lungs, kidneys or heart

Our transplant team may ask you to complete extra steps to make sure live liver donation is safe for you. This may occur if:

  • You are older than 50
  • Your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30
  • You have a first-degree relative with certain types of liver disease
  • You have a history of substance abuse

Donor Evaluation Process

Our living donor transplant specialists want to be sure that you are healthy enough to donate without undue risk to yourself and are a good match for the recipient. Our evaluation process includes several steps.

You will meet with a liver specialist. This is a doctor separate from the recipient’s transplant team. They will complete a medical evaluation and serve as your donor advocate throughout your surgery and recovery.

You will complete physical and mental health exams, including:

  • A medical history and physical exam to rule out any medical problems
  • A surgical evaluation by one of our living donor liver surgeons
  • A psychiatry evaluation to make sure you are ready to handle the physical and emotional changes that come with liver donation
  • An assessment by a social worker to review your plans for care after the transplant surgery

Once we confirm your blood type, a series of tests will follow. They may include:

  • Blood tests to check for transmittable diseases, underlying liver diseases and other serious medical conditions that could make liver donation unsafe
  • Cardiac Stress test to show how your heart works during physical activity
  • Colonoscopy to check the health of your colon
  • Echocardiogram to check your heart’s structure and function
  • Electrocardiogram to monitor your heart’s electrical impulses
  • Liver biopsy is occasionally needed to examine the quality of the liver tissue and make sure no disease is present
  • Pap tests, for women to check for signs of cancer in the cervix
  • Pulmonary function tests to determine how well your lungs are working
  • Urine test 

Imaging tests are used to confirm your health and view and assess your liver tissue. Imaging tests you may have include: 

  • Chest X-rays to check your lung health
  • CT or MRI of the abdomen with IV contrast to see the size and portion of your liver that can be safely donated and to check your liver’s blood supply
  • Mammogram for women to check for any breast conditions
  • Ultrasound to see your liver and surrounding tissues and organs 
Your doctor will decide if any additional testing is needed.

After all of your testing is completed, your case will be discussed in a private conference to ensure that the risk to you is as low as possible and that you and the recipient are a good match. After our transplant team approves you as a living liver donor, we can schedule a date for surgery.

Financial Costs Related to Living Liver Donation

Most medical costs for a living donor liver transplant are paid for by the recipient’s health insurance company. An Emory Healthcare financial counselor will financially approve you for living-donor liver surgery before you complete your evaluation.

Donor Safety and Support

When you become a living liver donor, you make a positive impact on more than just one person’s life. You also allow a scarce deceased donor liver to be transplanted into someone who doesn’t have their own donor available. As a living liver donor, your safety and support are our priority. It is important for living donors to understand everything that is involved in the donation process. Donors undergo detailed testing and evaluations to ensure safety. They are also assigned a Transplant Nurse Coordinator to help with appointments and answer any questions along the way.