The lack of awareness around liver donation leads to misconceptions about the process. Many people are terrified when asked to donate their liver. They feel worried about the after-effects of the procedure and the impact it will have on their quality of life. Usually, people donate their livers after they die but it is also possible to donate a portion of your liver when you are alive and well. Here, we have answered the common questions you may have as a donor.
Who Can be a Living Donor?
People who are fit and wish to donate a part of their liver to a loved one can start by contacting the hospital where the recipient is being assessed for transplantation. You can also volunteer to donate a portion of your liver to a stranger by getting in touch with a transplant center near you. This is known as “non-directed donation”. Your identity will be kept confidential throughout the process. It is important to note that you can change your mind about donating at any point right up to the surgery.
1. Criteria for being a donor
You should fulfill the following minimum criteria for being a donor
- You must be in the age group of 18-60 years. Elderly people and children are not eligible donors.
- Be physically fit. People suffering from conditions like heart disease, HIV, and lung diseases are not suitable for donation. Undergoing surgery can increase the risk of complications in such scenarios.
- The liver should be free of disease and healthy for donation.
- You should not have a history of substance or alcohol abuse and must agree to restrict alcohol intake till you recover.
- You should be psychologically and mentally fit so that the healthcare team can make sure that you are competent enough to understand the commitments and risks associated with the procedure.
2. Donor evaluation
The healthcare team will conduct a series of tests to evaluate your fitness. These include
- Blood tests including blood cell count, liver function tests, and kidney function tests
- Imaging tests like MRI and CT scan of the liver
- Urine tests
- Colonoscopy, ECG, and cardiac echo
The results from these tests will be evaluated thoroughly to determine your suitability as a donor. The process of approval for donating a liver is highly regulated to ensure that you are not under any pressure to donate the liver and the procedure is safe for you.
For a deceased donor liver transplant, the healthy liver comes from patients who have been declared brain dead.
What is the Procedure?
The liver transplant surgeon can remove up to two-thirds of your liver for transplant. The tissue graft will be selected depending on who you are donating to. For adults, the surgeon will use your right lobe (two-thirds of the liver) or left lobe (one-third of the liver). In the case of children, the left lateral segment which comprises 15-20% of the liver is enough for transplant. After being admitted to the hospital, you will be administered general anesthesia for the surgery. The surgeon will make an incision across the stomach to access the liver. The donor piece will be carefully removed and sent to the recipient. Your incision will be then stitched.
After the surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for around a week. After being discharged, you will need 6-8 weeks to recover completely. You are not at a loss after donating your liver as it grows back to its normal size in 6-8 weeks.
How will my life change after donating a part of my liver?
The early recovery phase can be marked with discomfort and pain because of the incision. However, this can be easily managed with pain medicines. Your healthcare team will conduct regular follow-ups to monitor your regeneration and recovery. Once you start eating well and walking around, you will be discharged from the hospital.
There are certain risks associated with the procedure that you should know about. These include bleeding, blood clots, and infection. These are not life-threatening and can be managed. You can also follow the given steps to fasten the recovery process:
- Take the prescribed medicines on time
- Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water
- Abstain from consuming alcohol at least 3 months after the operation
- Do not lift any heavy objects
- Try to avoid long travel and walk many times a day
You can expect to return to work after 6-8 weeks of the operation.
Avail Liver Transplantation Across the World
Donating a portion of your liver to help a critical patient is an admirable thing to do. But, it is also a grave decision that should not be taken in haste and confusion. You should ask all relevant questions about the procedure, side effects, and recovery after the operation. It is important to know that you can change your decision anytime you want.