Living Donation

Living-Donor Liver Transplant Frequently Asked Questions

For the Recipient

The liver is one of the only organs in the human body that has the ability to regenerate, or regrow. About eight to ten weeks after the living-donor liver transplant, the liver will regrow to full size and function in both the donor and the recipient.

Your doctor can refer you to the UPMC Liver Transplant Program, or you can refer yourself. Visit UPMC.com/LiverTransplant for more information about what is needed to be referred to the program. Information can be faxed to UPMC via a secure e-fax line at 412-692-4154.

Once you are referred to UPMC’s liver transplant program, the living-donor liver transplant team will discuss living donation as an option with you.

The costs of a living-donor liver transplant vary depending on your insurance – every insurance plan is different. Your credit analyst and social worker at UPMC will work with you and help you understand what parts of your medical care will be covered.

To be scheduled for a living-donor liver transplant evaluation, you must be alcohol and substance free for a minimum of six months. This includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine/heroin
  • Other illicit substances

Our experts review the case of every patient who is referred to us. We will consider you for a living-donor liver transplant even if you have been previously turned down at a different center.

UPMC offers a variety of resources to assist you in your search for a living donor through the Living Donor Champion Program, such as:

Refer your donor to UPMC.com/LivingDonor where they can register to be a living donor by filling out a questionnaire. A member of the living donor transplant team will contact them within a few days.

For the Donor – Deciding on Becoming a Living Donor

The safety of our living donors is a top priority. To ensure that donating is safe, all living donors undergo an extensive transplant evaluation before being allowed to donate. To become a living donor, you must:

At UPMC, our team of liver transplant experts will assess you to ensure that organ donation poses the least possible risk.

Research has shown little long-term risk or effect on a living-liver donor.

But, as with any major surgery, liver donation surgery can include complications such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke

Death is extremely rare, but has occurred in a few cases.

Our living-donor liver transplant team will discuss all of the possible risks with you before the procedure – donor safety is our top priority.

No – In the past, one requirement for living donation was that the liver transplant recipient and donor needed to be a blood group match. This is no longer the case. If you’ve been told that donating your liver would not work due to the “wrong” blood type, we urge you to contact our program to discuss this new possibility.

No – While many wish to donate a portion of their liver to a family member, you can donate your liver to a friend, coworker, or even a stranger.

For the Donor – Before Living-Liver Donor Surgery

Before scheduling living-donor liver surgery, you will undergo a thorough evaluation. This will ensure that you have no conditions or concerns that would cause special risks during the surgery and that the transplant recipient will benefit from the donated portion of your liver.

Medical costs related to the donation are typically covered by the recipient’s insurance. Before your evaluation, a UPMC transplant credit analyst will financially approve you for living-donor liver surgery. You will then receive a UPMC living donor insurance card, which includes information about registration and billing.

Your living-donor liver transplant nurse coordinator will give you details on how to prepare for your surgery.

We ask all living donors to take basic health measures to ensure surgery goes smoothly and lessens the recipient’s risk of rejecting your liver.

  • Smoking: If you’re a light smoker, stop smoking at least one month prior to your liver donation surgery. Because smoking can add risks to surgery, people who smoke heavily do not make ideal organ donors.
  • Alcohol and drugs: Prior to surgery, you must be sober of alcohol and drugs. We also ask you to inform your living donor transplant nurse coordinator of any medications that you take.
  • Oral contraceptives: Donors should stop oral contraceptives around four weeks prior to living donation to prevent blood clots after surgery. We strongly advise you to use other forms of birth control during this time.

For the Donor – Living-Liver Donor Surgery

The percentage of the liver that is removed from the donor varies depending on the age and size of the person receiving the transplant. Typically, about 50 to 60 percent of the liver is removed and transplanted into another person to replace their unhealthy liver. The liver regenerates, or grows back, to its full size in the donor and recipient in about two to three months.

Medications to control your pain and some other routine post-operative medications may be needed during your hospital stay, but it is unlikely you will need medication after you leave the hospital.

Following living-donor liver surgery, you will move to an inpatient post-surgery unit to make sure you do not need further treatment. From there, you will transfer to a transplant recovery floor where you could stay for one week before going home.

If you have already met with the UPMC Liver Transplant team, call 412-847-5800 or toll-free at 877-640-6746.

For new liver transplant patients, call 833-514-5999.