What is a liver transplant?
Liver Transplant Recipient
Liver transplant is the surgical procedure in which a liver from a donor is placed in the body of a patient whose liver is no longer functioning well. While liver transplants were first performed in the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that the surgery became safe enough to offer to large numbers of patients. Liver transplantation is the best treatment for most patients with liver failure and/or cirrhosis.
Our goal is to provide you and your family with information about the entire process of liver transplantation, including the evaluation and decision process, waiting for an organ, surgery, recovery, and living with a donated liver. If there are questions we have left unanswered, we encourage you to contact the Transplant Center.
Am I a candidate for liver transplantation?
Many illnesses damage liver function. In some cases, the liver can repair itself through a process called regeneration. However, if too many liver cells are destroyed, the regeneration process cannot repair enough cells to restore normal function. Because of the liver's many life-sustaining functions, a person cannot live when the liver is completely destroyed.
Liver transplant is indicated for many types of liver diseases. These diseases fall into four categories:
- Irreversible chronic liver disease can cause cirrhosis, which develops over a long period of time
- Fulminant liver failure, which develops very quickly, can be caused by a virus or medication
- Metabolic diseases, including imbalances of iron, cholesterol, copper or enzymes
- Liver cancer, only if the cancer is small and has not spread beyond the liver
Some liver diseases and some of the complications of liver diseases can be effectively treated with medications. However, for many patients, medical treatment is a temporary solution and transplant is the best option for long term recovery.
Since transplant requires a lifelong commitment to taking medication and to having regular physician contact, patients also must understand and be willing to accept this responsibility.
Is there a liver available for me?
Your doctor will assign you a score that represents how urgently you need a transplant. The score is a number on a scale called the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD). Your MELD score is calculated based on actual lab results, including INR, total bilirubin and creatinine.
Learn more about MELD scores (Organ Procurement and Transportation Network)
In addition to the MELD score, Body Mass Index (or BMI) is also considered for transplant candidates. Find out your BMI using the link below to our calculator.
Body Mass Index Calculator
Because only a human liver can be transplanted, all liver transplants involve a human donor. There are two types of liver donors:
Cadaveric donor - A cadaveric donor is a person with irreversible brain damage who has been declared brain-dead and whose family has agreed to donate the organs for transplantation. Most livers currently used in transplant are from cadaver donors. Because there are more people needing liver transplants than there are available donor livers, most potential recipients go on national waiting lists. All organs available for transplantation are matched against the waiting lists to find the most compatible recipient. The length of time on a waiting list may range from months to years.
Living donor - The UK HealthCare Transplant Center currently does not perform a living donor liver procedure. In this procedure, a portion of the liver is taken from a living donor and transplanted into a recipient.
Patients referred to our Transplant Center undergo a complete medical assessment specific to their needs. This assessment may include:
Patients are also screened for anticipated compliance, support system availability and emotional stability. Financial coverage for the transplant and aftercare is also confirmed.
The success of liver transplant depends largely on your condition going into the surgery. If you are in fairly good condition, your chances for a successful outcome are as high as 90 percent. Patients who are critically ill have lower chances for a good outcome.
Overall, the chance of living one year after surgery is approximately 75 to 80 percent. After the first year, patients who consistently take their medication and visit their physician should continue to enjoy the benefits of transplant for a long time.
The transplant team
Roberto Gedaly, MD, is the director of the UK HealthCare Liver Transplantation Program.
The transplant team includes nurses, social workers, dietitians, cardiologists and other health care professionals providing care for you throughout the transplant process.
For a listing of other members of the transplant teams, please go to the main University of Kentucky employee directory »
Cost and payment
The costs associated with transplantation, both for the procedure and for post-transplant care, can be a source of concern for potential recipients. There are a number of ways to cover the cost of a transplant, including private insurance, Medicare coverage, Medicaid, advocacy organizations and fundraising. A financial counselor is available at the UK HealthCare Transplant Center to assist you with resources available for you. It is important to discuss these issues prior to surgery. You can reach the finance counselor by calling 859-323-9347.
See a list of online transplant resources »
American Liver Foundation