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This is a surgery to replace a diseased or damaged liver with a liver from a donor who has died. In some cases, a portion of the liver of a living, related donor may be used.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
There is a shortage of donors. You may be on a transplant list for some time. You may need to carry a cell phone with you at all times. This is to allow the transplant team to reach you if a liver becomes available.
Your doctor will likely do the following:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- Chest x-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the chest
- Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
Leading up to your surgery:
- Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, aspirin )
- Blood thinners, like clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
- Take medicines as directed. Do not take over-the-counter medicines without checking with your doctor.
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- Arrange for someone to drive you home. Also, arrange for someone to help you at home.
- If advised by your doctor, use an enema. The enema will clean out the intestines and prevent constipation after surgery.
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV in your hand or arm.
Description of the Procedure
The doctor will make an incision shaped like a boomerang on the upper part of the abdomen. The old liver will be removed. The doctor will leave portions of major blood vessels in place. The new liver will be inserted and attached to the blood vessels and bile ducts. To help with bile drainage, a tube will also be inserted into the bile duct during surgery. The doctor will then close the area with stitches.
Immediately After Procedure
You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) and will have the following devices:
- Breathing tube until you can breathe on your own
- IV fluids and medicine
- Bladder catheter to drain urine
How Long Will It Take?
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during the surgery. You will have pain while recovering. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.
Average Hospital Stay
This surgery is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is several weeks. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you shows signs of rejecting the new liver or have other problems.
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you will:
- Receive fluids and nutrition through an IV—You will slowly transition to eating.
- Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour—This will help your lungs work better after surgery.
- Take immunosuppressive drugs—You will need to take these for the rest of your life. These drugs reduce the chance that your body will reject the new liver. They also have potential side effects, like infection and cancer. Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions .
- Take proper care of the incision site. This will help to prevent an infection.
- Work with a physical therapist. Exercises will help you to regain strength.
- Monitor your temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and weight.
- Follow a special diet. This diet will help to prevent water retention and to maintain a normal weight and blood pressure.
- Take medicines as advised by doctor
Recovery time varies. It depends, in part, on your health before the transplant.
American Liver Foundation
United Network for Organ Sharing
Canadian Liver Foundation
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. Updated March 2003. Accessed July 21, 2009.