Frequently Asked Questions about Liver Transplant Surgery
If your Loyola hepatologist has recommended a liver transplant as your best medical option, we understand that you will have many questions. Loyola is known for taking on the most challenging cases. If you’ve been turned down by another transplant center, consider getting a second opinion at Loyola.
We expect that you have many concerns about your transplant surgery. You may be interested in reviewing the answers to the most frequently asked questions about kidney transplant surgery. We are also available to answer your questions at your appointment times or by phone.
Loyola’s multidisciplinary team is widely recognized for its expertise in helping liver transplant candidates maintain the best health possible while waiting for surgery. Once you are placed on the national waiting list, you will receive extensive patient education to prepare you.
What to Expect Before Liver Transplant Surgery
How long should I expect to wait for my transplant? Many factors will affect how soon you will be offered a liver donation, including your medical urgency, compatibility to the donor and geography (organs are matched within the same region whenever possible). Your Loyola transplant team will continue to manage your condition and keep you healthy until you receive your transplant.
Who pays for the operation? Insurance, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid, will pay for your evaluation and surgery. Please contact your insurance company for specific levels of coverage.
What does the liver do? The liver is the biggest organ inside the body, located on the right side under the rib cage. It filters out nutrients absorbed in the intestines and carried by the blood; breaks down toxins in the blood that are created during daily living; and produces bile, which helps to digest food in the intestines, along with many of the proteins your body needs to function.
How do I know if I need a liver transplant? There are many possible reasons to need a liver transplant. If your liver is failing or you have certain diseases that affect the liver, you may need a transplant. A Loyola liver specialist can conduct an evaluation to determine whether you are a candidate for a liver transplant.
Whom do I talk to if I am interested in investigating liver transplant surgery? You can call 708-327-4TXP (708-327-4897) to speak with a liver transplant representative.
What does a liver transplant evaluation involve? A liver transplant evaluation is extensive. It requires many liver function tests and examinations to determine your need and is different for each patient.
Is there an age limit for liver transplant surgery? Liver transplants are routinely performed for patients of all ages. At Loyola, we only perform adult liver transplants.
What does it mean to be on “the list” for a liver transplant? After completing the evaluation process, Loyola’s multidisciplinary team reviews your results. If you are approved for a liver transplant, you will be registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing, more commonly called UNOS. This is the national waiting list for deceased-donor organs. It is used to match donor organs with potential recipients.
What should I be doing while I wait for a donor? Waiting for a donor liver can be a stressful experience, especially because your wait time is unknown. In general, try to maintain your health as much as possible. If you are slightly overweight, exercising to lose weight is helpful and will allow you to recover sooner. Your doctors may recommend specific medications or treatments to help you stay in the best health.
What are some of the conditions and diseases that may prompt the need for a transplant? The causes of end-stage liver disease vary. Some diseases that may lead to end-stage liver disease and may require a transplant include:
- Alcoholic liver disease (alcoholic cirrhosis)
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Biliary atresia
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)
Am I allowed to travel while I wait for a donor liver? You will need to be at the hospital within one to two hours after we receive word that a donor liver is available. If you need to travel a long distance, your request for a liver may be put on hold while you are away. Your time away does not affect your place on the list.
What should I expect for my transplant surgery time? All surgical times vary, but a liver transplant usually takes about five to 10 hours.
Learn more about evaluation for liver transplant at Loyola.
What to Expect After Liver Transplant Surgery
What are visiting hours? Visiting hours are set to allow you the time to recover after your surgery. Visiting hours for most hospital patients are from 9 am to 9 pm.
How long are most people hospitalized after transplant? What will be my transplant recovery time, and when can I expect to get back to my normal routine? Every patient is different, but the average length of stay for a liver transplant is approximately one week. Recovery also varies and often depends on how healthy you were before your surgery. On average, most patients resume normal activities within six weeks.
What will life be like after my transplant surgery? Life after transplant should be very different, especially if you were very sick before the transplant. Some patients say that they never expected to feel so good again. Every patient is different, and outcomes depend on your health and level of activity prior to transplant.
What procedures must I follow after my transplant surgery? You must take specific precautions to prevent rejection. You will need to take your immunosuppressive drugs and other medications exactly as prescribed. You will be instructed on how to limit your exposure to infection.
How often will I need to see my doctor after my transplant surgery? You will see your doctor very often right after surgery and have blood tests done to check your liver’s function. You likely will see your doctor every week for about six weeks after you leave the hospital, then approximately every month for several months.
How long will I have to take the anti-rejection medications? You will have to take these medications for as long as you have a transplanted organ. The anti-rejection medications are extremely important and must be taken every day, preferably at the same time, to prevent rejection. Taking your medications is one of the most important things you need to do after your transplant surgery.
How many different medications will I have to be on long term? There are many different medications you will need to take, which will also depend on any other medical problems you may have. You will have several medications that are directly related to your transplant.
Learn more about liver transplant surgery at Loyola.
What to Expect as a Living Liver Donor
How can I become a donor or encourage a friend to become a donor? Loyola Medicine has partnered with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network as part of the Hospitals for Hope campaign. You can register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at the Hospitals for Hope website. Your decision can make an impact that will save and enhance countless lives.
Does the donor have to be hospitalized for evaluation? All tests to evaluate a potential donor are done as an outpatient.
What does the donor pre-evaluation entail? The liver donor evaluation is an extensive physical exam that includes laboratory tests to check not only liver function, but also the health of all other organs. This includes diagnostic tests to check the function of the potential donor’s heart and general overall health. A prospective donor has to have a blood type that is compatible with the recipient. A psychosocial evaluation is also done to ensure that a donor can manage the emotional stress of donating part of a liver, as well as to make certain they are donating without any pressure from others.
What about age factors for living liver donors? Partial liver donors have to be a minimum age of 18 and of sound mind and judgment to make such an important decision.
Are there any restrictions resulting from liver donation from living donors? After your full recovery, there are no lifestyle or work restrictions.
What is recovery like for donors? It is different for every person. You will have small incisions on your abdomen, along with some mild to moderate pain. The nurses caring for you will encourage you to tell them about any pain you are having so they can ease your discomfort. Your doctors will monitor you closely for the first 24 hours after surgery, and you will begin to feel better within the first day. You will be encouraged to get up, walk around and do some deep breathing and coughing to prevent complications from the anesthesia.
As a donor, how long will my hospital stay be, and when can I go back to work? Most people go home about a week after surgery. If you experience more pain than normal, you may be required to stay an extra day until your pain is under control. Our medical staff will send you home with pain medicine. Going back to work depends on the type of work that you do; most people can return to work after about eight weeks, unless it is a physically demanding job. The time needed for a complete recovery in order to return to all prior activity is approximately 16 weeks.
What should donors expect on an emotional level? This differs from person to person. Some people will feel very happy they were able to help someone in need of a life-saving organ. Other people might feel slightly depressed even though they helped someone in an incredible way. Still others will feel completely the same afterwards. The important point is that all of these emotions are completely normal feelings after donation. Everyone is unique in how they respond. But almost everyone does report an overall positive response and experience.
Learn more about Loyola’s living liver donor program.