Healthcare: Transplant Procedures

Liver Transplantation

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Scott Holmes
Liver transplantation

A liver transplant is a surgical procedure that removes a severely diseased liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from an organ donor.

Conditions that can destroy the liver include long-term alcohol use, viral hepatitis, liver cancer, and other diseases.

After receiving a transplant, a person will need to take medicines the rest of his or her life to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection of the new organ.

Not everyone is a candidate for liver transplant. The person must be in good health apart from the liver disease, be free from drugs and alcohol for at least 6 months, and be young enough for the possibility of a long life when healthy. The person must also be free from significant psychological disorders (such as severe depression) and be able to pay for the expensive procedure.


Preparing for Surgery


Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin, clopidogrel, or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. 
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • If you have an advance directive, let your doctor know. It may include a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Bring a copy to the hospital. 
  • If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.


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Scott Holmes
Liver transplant with revised bile duct anastomosis.

A liver transplant is surgery to give you a healthy liver from another person. You may get a whole new liver or just part of a new liver. The new liver may come from someone you know. Or it may come from a stranger or a person who has died.

To do the surgery, the doctor makes a cut in your upper belly. This cut is called an incision. Then the doctor removes your liver. Next he or she connects the blood vessels of the new liver to your blood vessels. He or she also connects the bile duct of the new liver to your bile duct. The doctor finishes the surgery by closing your incision with stitches or staples. These are removed about 1 to 3 weeks after surgery. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.

After surgery, the new liver will start to do the work that your old liver could not.

You will probably spend 10 to 20 days in the hospital. Most people are able to go back to work in about 2 to 3 months. But it depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.


After Your Transplant


A liver transplant is surgery to give you a healthy liver from another person. You may have received a whole new liver or just a section of a new liver. The new liver may have come from someone you know, a stranger, or a person who has died. Your doctor will take out your diseased liver when you get a donor liver.

Your belly and side will be sore for the first 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. You also may have some numbness around the cut (incision) the doctor made. It is common to feel tired while you are healing. It may take 2 to 4 months for your energy to fully return.

After the transplant, you must take medicine to keep your body from rejecting the new liver. You will need to take anti-rejection medicine every day for the rest of your life. These medicines have side effects. One side effect is that your body may be less able to fight infections. It is important that you take steps to avoid infections. Stay away from crowds of people and anyone who might have an infection or an illness such as a cold or the flu.

Having an organ transplant can bring up many emotions. Seek out family, friends, and counselors for support. If you think you are depressed, ask your doctor for help. Treatment can help you feel better.

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