The liver performs a number of crucial functions in the body, including cleaning the blood, fighting infections, synthesizing protein, storing energy and producing chemicals necessary for digestion. A variety of diseases, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, can cause the liver to fail.
Liver transplantation is a surgical procedure that places a healthy donor liver from another person into a patient whose liver has failed. The transplanted liver is connected to blood vessels and bile ducts and resumes its normal tasks inside its new body. Donor livers usually come from a person who has died and who registered to be an organ donor while still living.
The following conditions may require you to get a liver transplant:
Liver Transplantation Process
At Rush, the liver transplantation process involves preparation, surgery and follow-up.
Initial appointment and pre-transplant evaluation: During your initial visit, you will meet with each member of our multidisciplinary team. They will assess the severity of your illness and any other medical problems you may have to determine if transplant is an appropriate option. They also will provide information about transplant and will answer any questions you may have. Based on your prior diagnostic testing, several tests will be completed during your initial visit or scheduled for another day. For a successful initial appointment, please bring the following with you:
- Past medical records
- Prior diagnostic test results
- Current insurance card
- Current prescriptions
The following tests may be included in your evaluation. Other tests may need to be done based on the results of these tests and patient specific needs.
- X-Rays, CT Scans and ultrasounds
- Lung function tests
- Cardiac evaluation
- Blood, urine and stool tests
- Gastroenterology examinations
- Consults with other specialists as needed
To schedule your initial evaluation please call (312) 942-4252
Listing: Once your pre-transplant evaluation is completed, the Multidisciplinary Selection Committee will review your evaluation to discuss your eligibility for a liver transplant. If the committee decides that you meet the requirements, you will receive a letter stating that you have been placed on the waiting list for a donor liver.
Waiting for a Liver: The availability of a donor liver depends on compatibility factors. Keep in touch with your transplant nurse coordinator on a monthly basis. Let the nurse know of any changes in your condition, as they might make you eligible to receive your donor liver more quickly. In addition, let the nurse know if you move, change or add phone numbers, go on vacation, change insurance, are admitted to the hospital, have an infection that requires antibiotics, or have a transfusion.
Transplantation: A deceased donor liver may become available at any time, day or night. When the time comes, a transplant nurse coordinator will call to tell you that a donor liver is available. Our team will make the arrangements for the surgery and your hospital stay. Your nurse coordinator will inform you and your family about where you should go and when to arrive. You will undergo a few final tests before surgery.
During liver transplantation, a healthy liver from a deceased donor is placed inside your body. The surgery usually takes three to four hours and requires a 5- to 10-inch incision in your abdominal area.
Each day that you are in the surgical intensive care unit at Rush, the multidisciplinary liver transplant care team will visit you, review your progress and reassess what medications you need. Once you are moved into the surgical intensive care unit, your family will be able to visit you.
Home Care: During your transplant surgery, a small rubber tube will be inserted through your abdomen into your liver to drain bile into a bag until your bile ducts heal. You will go home with this tube in place, and it will remain in place for about four months. A member of the liver transplant care team at Rush will assess your home care needs before your discharge from the hospital and help arrange a visiting nurse or physical or occupational therapist if you need it.
Follow-Up Care: After you are discharged from Rush, you will need to return to the transplant clinic on a regular basis for continued evaluation of your new liver, management of your anti-rejection medications and routine postoperative wound care. Generally, these appointments will take place once a week for the first month after surgery, then become less frequent.
For the rest of your life, you will need to continue to receive follow-up health evaluations. Blood tests will be the primary screening tool to assess your liver function. At standard intervals and if there is suspicion of rejection, your doctor may perform a biopsy (tissue sample and analysis) of your transplanted liver. The biopsy helps determine if anything is wrong with the liver and what treatments may be needed. Other tests and referrals to specialists will be made as needed based on your situation.
Working After Receiving a Transplant: Unless specifically told by a doctor not to work, most people are able to return to work within four to six months after transplant surgery, depending on the amount of physical exertion the job requires.