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Benefits and Risks of Living-Donor Liver Transplant

Advances in liver transplant surgery and the liver's unique ability to regenerate allow people to donate part of their liver to help someone in dire need of a transplant. A living-donor liver donation is when a doctor surgically removes a liver that is no longer functioning correctly and replaces it with a portion of a healthy liver from a living donor.

Why is Living-Donor Liver Donation Important?

In 2021, there were over 550 living-donor liver transplants in the U.S. Receiving a living donation decreases a person's wait time on the national transplant waiting list. Additionally, a liver from a living donor can start functioning immediately, leading to better results overall post-surgery.

At UPMC, our transplant team will discuss the benefits and risks of living-liver donation during your pre-donation evaluation.

What are the Benefits of a Living-Donor Liver Transplant?

There are many benefits of living-liver donation, including:

  • Living-donor transplant helps save the lives of people with end-stage liver disease. And it increases the number of livers for people on the transplant waiting list.
  • Living-liver donors can feel good knowing that they've had a huge impact on another person's life.
  • Living-liver donors and transplant recipients can schedule surgery at a time that works for both people.
  • Flexible scheduling allows the transplant to occur sooner. This can save valuable time spent on the liver transplant waitlist and reduce the risk of the liver disease from getting worse.
  • Because they are receiving a portion of a healthy donor's liver, recipients typically have improved long-term outcomes and quicker recovery times.

What Are the Risks for Living Donors?

Surgery of any kind carries basic risks. Keep in mind that UPMC's renowned liver transplant surgeons have experience with complex cases. This knowledge allows us to reduce the risks of complications during liver transplant surgery.

It is on a rare occasion that a complication would occur during living-donor liver transplant that would require further corrective surgery or medical treatments.

Some risks of living-donor liver transplant may include:

  • Bile leakage — this occurs in a small subset of living-liver donors and most often resolves itself. Doctors can also aid the healing process by placing a tube in the liver.
  • Infection — some living-liver donors may get an infection at the site of surgery. If this happens, our transplant team will watch over your condition to reduce health issues.
  • Organ damage or other problems — living-liver donation can also cause organ damage, further complications, or even death in very rare cases.

Living-liver donation can help more than 14,000 people currently on the waiting list. Living donors can make a life-changing difference in many lives. UPMC's liver transplant team is dedicated to helping living donors and ensuring that they receive the care and assistance they need during the process.

Hear Living Donor Stories

Hear first hand from those who have made the decision to become living donors.