Where do donated livers come from?
Liver donors are usually persons who have died and whose families have consented to having their organ donated. Sometimes, however, a living person can donate a portion of his/her liver to another person.
Living donor liver transplants are an option for some patients with end-stage liver disease. This involves removing a segment of liver from a healthy living donor and implanting it into a recipient. Both the donor and recipient liver segments will grow to normal size in a few weeks. The donor, who may be a blood relative, spouse, or friend, will have extensive medical and psychological evaluations to ensure the lowest possible risk. Blood type and body size are critical factors in determining who is an appropriate donor. Recipients for the living donor transplantation must be active on the transplant waiting list. Their health must also be stable enough to undergo transplantation with excellent chances of success.
In cadaveric liver transplantation, the donor may be a victim of an accident or head injury. The donor’s heart is still beating but the brain has stopped functioning. Such a person is considered legally dead, because his or her brain has permanently and irreversibly stopped working. The heart continues to beat because the donor is attached to a respirator. The respirator delivers an adequate supply of oxygen to all vital organs. At this point, the donor is in an intensive-care unit. The identity of a cadaveric donor and circumstances surrounding the person's death are kept confidential.
Hospitals will evaluate all potential donors for evidence of liver disease, alcohol or drug abuse, cancer, or infection. Donors will also be tested for hepatitis, AIDS, and other infections. If this screening does not reveal problems with the liver, donors and recipients are matched according to blood type and body size. Age, race, and sex are not considered.
The transplant team will discuss your transplantation options with you at the time of your pretransplant evaluation, or you can contact the transplant team for more information.