For many people, waiting on a liver transplant can take years on the current wait list. According to Donate Life Texas, an average of 17 people die every day waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. The traditional organ donor model of waiting on a deceased donor’s organ to match the recipient has created significant wait times for those in desperate need of a new liver. Why? Because there aren’t enough organ donors for the people who need organs.
But for patients on the wait list for a liver donor, there is another option that’s gained popularity—living liver donors.
How does living liver donation work?
Transplant physicians are encouraging those on the wait list to find a living donor who is deemed a match and is willing to donate part of their liver to the recipient. Within about three weeks of the transplant, the donor liver can generate new tissue and regrow to its original size.
There are number of benefits to using a living donor for a liver transplant:
- A living donor liver is the best quality liver for transplantation.
- Using a living donor eliminates the long wait time associated with a national deceased donor waiting list.
- Prompt use of a living donor liver maximizes the chance that the recipient will receive a transplant before the condition worsens.
- The surgery can be scheduled at the convenience of the donor and recipient.
The surgery is complex and requires expertise and experience. According to statistics from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network of the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 13,000 living donor liver transplants have been performed in Texas, and the national total is almost 180,000.
Who can be a living organ donor?
Living donors may be relatives, loved ones or friends of the recipient. They should be 18 to 60 years old, in good health, have a compatible blood type and want to make the liver donation without outside pressure. The donor’s medical expenses typically are covered by the recipient’s medical benefits.
According to the US Health Resources & Services Administration, more than 105,000 people of all ages are on the national transplant waiting list. Livers are the second-most awaited transplant, with nearly 12,000 people on the waiting list in 2021, of which around 9,200 received a liver transplant. (Kidneys are, by far, the most-needed organs on the waiting list.)
Giuliano Testa, MD, chief of abdominal transplant at Baylor University Medical Center, said the number of living donors has been steady for more than a decade—but the number of people needing a liver transplant has increased as baby boomers reach retirement age.
“Patients with potential living liver donors should consider this approach because the procedure has become a proven surgical option for those in need of a liver transplant,” Dr. Testa said.