Living Donor Liver Surgery and Recovery

Once our transplant teams decide that you are a good candidate for living donation, you and your recipient can begin to prepare for your surgery and recovery. Most transplants are scheduled four to six weeks in advance, so you’ll have plenty of time to get ready and coordinate care during your recovery.

Most donors spend between 3 and 7 days in the hospital. Your full recovery will last between six and eight weeks and will include check-ups with your doctor. As your body heals and your liver regrows, you will begin to feel more like yourself.

One Liver, Two Surgeries

On the day of surgery, the transplant teams for the donor and the recipient set up in side-by-side operating rooms. As soon as the surgeon removes part of the donor’s liver a second team immediately transplants the donated segment of liver into the transplant recipient. The amount of liver transplanted is carefully calculated to ensure that both patients have enough to maintain normal body functions.

What to Expect if you are Donating Your Liver

If you are donating your liver, your operation will begin first. You will receive general anesthesia to be sure you don’t feel or remember a thing. During surgery, your liver will be divided and the donated segment will be prepared for transplant. You will then be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for monitoring and recovery.

What to Expect if you are Receiving a Living Donor Liver Transplant

Your transplant team will bring you to the operating room after your donor’s surgery has begun. You will receive general anesthesia to ensure that you won’t feel or remember a thing. Your old liver will be removed while the donor liver is being prepared. Next the donated liver will be transplanted into your body. After surgery is complete, the team will then take you to the ICU for monitoring and recovery.

After Donating Your Liver

Every surgery comes with risks. In very rare cases, liver failure can occur. Your transplant care team will review all possible complications in detail prior to surgery. 

As a liver donor you may experience:

  • Walk several times a day
  • Limit lifting for the first several weeks
  • Slowly return to your normal activities
  • Visit your transplant team for routine follow-up visits and lab tests to monitor your recovery

Surgeons remove about half of your liver during a living liver donation. The liver grows back to its full size in about three months.

Surgery Risks

Every surgery comes with risks. As a liver donor you may experience:
  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • Bile leakage, bile duct problems
  • Bleeding that may require transfusion
  • Blood clots
  • Hernia
  • Infection
  • Nausea
  • Organ damage
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Pneumonia
  • Scar tissue formation

In very rare cases, liver failure can occur. This may require transplantation. Your transplant care team will review all possible complications in detail prior to surgery. 

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

How Can We Help You Today?

Need help? We will be delighted to assist you today, so please call the Emory Transplant Center at 855-366-7989. We look forward to hearing from you.