Published: Feb. 12, 2010
Updated: Aug. 31, 2012
When a family member has liver disease and their liver fails, it can be stressful both for the patient and their family. Talking with family members, your doctors and nurses, a social worker, counselor, or clergy person may help you sort out your feelings and worries.
The information below is about donating a part of your liver to a family member. You should discuss this with your family members as well as the doctors and nurses you will see at the Transplant Clinic.
Usually someone must lose 80 to 90 percent or more of their liver function before they need liver replacement therapy. There is no hepatic dialysis, so patients with progressive, acute, or chronic liver failure either become transplanted or die. Sometimes liver failure happens suddenly. It also may happen slowly over many years. Either way the patient and their doctor will discuss the best options for them.
Living liver donors must be over 18 years old. Donors must be healthy, less than 50 years of age, and must have a compatible blood type. The donor must meet minimum hepatic volume requirements for the recipient (they must match in size).
The most common donors are related members of the family. These people are usually parents, children, or brothers or sisters of the person needing the transplant. Sometimes other family members, like grandparents, cousins, aunts, or uncles can be a donor.
In some cases, a husband or wife may be considered as a donor. Other non-related persons who have a very close emotional bond to the recipient are sometimes appropriate for donation of part of their liver.
After the blood typing is done we will know if you are a compatible match with your relative. Then we will talk with you in detail about being a donor.
First, you must decide if you want to be evaluated as a donor. If you do, then we will do several tests to make sure you are healthy and it is safe for you to donate part of your liver. This testing will take about two or three days, but you do not have to stay in the hospital for the tests. You will have these tests done: Blood samples (if compatible blood types), chest x-ray, EKG, volumetric abdominal CT scan, liver biopsy, and arteriogram.
You will see these people:
If all of these tests and evaluations show it is safe for you to continue we will schedule the last day of tests. You will be evaluated by a surgeon, and we will schedule an arteriogram. This is an x-ray test used to look at the blood vessels to the liver.
In this test a small tube is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin area and passed up to the blood vessels going to your liver. A small amount of dye is injected and pictures of the blood supply to your liver are made. You will need to remain in an observation area for up to six hours after this test is completed. If everything is okay with this test then we can schedule a transplant. Sometimes we may need to do some other tests, before the arteriogram.
With any surgery there are risks of bleeding or infections. There is also some risk associated with being put to sleep for surgery. The risk of death from this surgery is less than 1 percent. The reason we do lots of tests on possible donors is to see that they are healthy and that it is safe for them to donate. We want to be as sure as we can that donating a part of your liver now is not likely to cause you harm in the future.
The tests, surgery, hospital stay, and your return visit will not cost you. They are charged to the recipient’s insurance or Medicare. Your relative’s insurance or Medicare will not cover your time away from work or travel. Your only direct expense may be for some discharge medicines, such as pain medication and antibiotics. These usually cost less than $75.
Many people feel donating a part of their liver is rewarding and satisfying. It is quite normal to have some concerns over donating a part of your liver. Often talking over your feelings and concerns with your family members and the medical staff can ease those concerns and worries. You may find it helpful to talk with someone who has donated an organ to a family member. Ask the transplant nurse if that is possible.
Deciding to donate a part of your liver should be your decision without family pressure. It is up to you to decide if donating is right for you. You need to consider all the facts, the risks, and the benefits to decide what is right for you. Also the person with liver failure who needs a transplant has a right to decide that they do not want a transplant or they do not want to ask you to donate.
Sometimes other family members or friends ask if they can donate a part of their liver. We do evaluate other family members such as wives, husbands, or more distant relatives. Talk with your transplant nurse or doctor if you are interested in this option.