The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate itself; it can be split into two, and the two halves can be transplanted into two different people.
It is also an essential organ that performs over 500 vital functions in the body. What you eat, drink, and absorb is processed by the liver. The important functions of the liver include production and secretion of bile, regulating blood coagulation, fighting infections, hormonal regulation, storage of energy in the muscles and release of glucose, vitamins, etc.
Due to various factors the liver can sometimes become damaged. In certain cases of irreversible liver failure, your doctor might recommend liver transplantation. Before you opt for liver transplantation, it is good to have some knowledge about it.
What is liver transplantation?
Liver transplantation is a surgery in which the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a whole or partial healthy liver, taken from a donor.
Types of donors
The transplant or graft can be taken mainly from two types of donors:
Living donor: A portion of the liver is donated from a healthy person and is transplanted into the recipient. This can happen due to the ability of the liver to regenerate itself. The donated segment and the donor’s liver grow to the normal size within a few weeks.
Cadaveric donor: The whole liver from the person, who is brain dead, is taken and transplanted into the recipient. The graft can also be obtained from the persons suffering from cardiac death (who have detectable brain function), but with the consent of family or caregivers.
The donors have to be tested before transplantation to make sure that the liver is healthy, matches the blood type and is of the right size. Other health conditions of the patient such as infection, trauma, etc. are also evaluated.
What happens during the surgery?
The procedure is performed by administering general anesthesia and takes about 6 to 12 hours. Your surgeon makes an incision across the abdomen and removes the damaged liver after disconnecting the blood supply. Then the graft is placed in your body following reattachment of blood vessels and bile ducts. Then the surgeon closes the incision with the help of sutures and staples.
What is the after-care of the surgery?
After the surgery, you need to stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks to make sure that the transplanted liver is working. After discharge, you should follow certain instructions recommended by your doctor for a quick recovery:
- Take medications on time
- Stay away from people who are ill
- Eat a balanced and low-fat diet
- Quit alcohol and smoking
- Exercise daily
- Use sunscreens to avoid skin cancer
- Take calcium and vitamin pills
When you have any concerns about the medications prescribed or if you notice any new symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
What are the complications of the surgery?
Like with any other surgical procedures, complications with liver transplantation are unavoidable and include:
Rejection: Your immune system may attack and destroy the external body, i.e. the transplanted liver. This can happen at any time within the first 90 days of transplantation. To prevent this, you will be given anti-rejection medicines.
Infection: Due to the injection of anti-rejection medicines which suppress your immune system, the risk of infections increase after the surgery.
A liver transplant does carry with it certain risks. However, a successful liver transplantation can be lifesaving and improve the quality of life of the patient.