You may be aware it’s possible for a living person to donate a kidney. After all, we’re born with two of them. But you might be surprised to learn that the same thing is possible with the liver.
You’re probably thinking, wait, don’t I only have one liver? And isn’t that a vital organ I need to live? Yes, you do only have one liver, and it plays a vital role in many bodily functions.
But a little-known fact about the liver is that although it’s a single organ, it can be divided, making living donors an option for patients facing liver failure or liver disease.
How living donor liver transplantation works
With the liver, we can transplant according to the size of the recipient. For example, if the organ recipient is a baby, he or she would require only a small portion of a living donor’s liver. For a midsize person, they might receive the left side, and for a person larger in stature, they might receive the right side, which is the larger portion of the liver.
This creates more opportunities to save lives without having to match height and weight between the donor and recipient. However, you must be a blood type match and meet certain health criteria to be considered for living organ donation.
The most fascinating thing about this kind of transplant is that the liver quickly grows back to normal size, both in the donor and in the recipient. This means that after the surgery, even if you donate 65 percent of your liver, it can grow back to 100 percent in just six to eight weeks.
Why you should become a living donor
Without a living liver donor, patients get placed on a waiting list. Depending on their condition, they could be waiting for a long time — and only getting sicker while they wait. Transplant surgery and recovery are much more difficult for patients in poor health, so the sooner they can get a new liver, the better.
The reality is this: There’s a growing gap between the number of patients on the waiting list and the number of organs available through traditional cadaveric donation. But living donors can help us close that gap. Currently, there are around 250 to 300 living liver donors a year, which is only about 3 or 4 percent of the total liver transplants performed annually in the United States.
Most people aren’t aware that live donor liver transplants are even possible, but they are, and they work. Through the incredible generosity of living donors, these transplants give sick patients another chance at a healthy life.
About the author
Giuliano Testa, MD, FACS, MBA, is the Surgical Chief of the Abdominal Transplant Program and the Surgical Director of the Living Donor Liver Transplant Program at the Baylor Annette C. and Harold C. Simmons Transplant Institute. He is a recognized authority in the field of living donor liver transplantation and living donor intestinal transplantation with a new interest in uterus transplantation.