Becoming a living liver donor

Posted on: 6th November 2019

It saddens me that so few people know about live liver donations. Let’s continue to be hopeful and together, spread the message.

Damian, a live liver donor

Every year hundreds of people sadly die whilst waiting for a liver as there are simply not enough livers donated by people who die.

Living donor liver transplantation has been successfully performed in the UK since 1995. A living liver donor is a person who gives part of their liver to someone with liver failure who needs a transplant (the recipient). This could be a friend or family member, or someone they do not already know.

Volunteering to offer part of your liver is a wonderful thing to do, but it is also an important decision and there are many things for you to consider.

Why do we need more living liver donors?

  • Approximately 900 people in the UK undergo liver transplantation every year
  • Around 600 people with liver disease each year on the UK transplant list are not transplanted and are still waiting for a liver – and the numbers are growing
  • 15 to 20% of patients on the transplant list die or are removed each year whilst waiting for an organ
  • The average waiting time for a liver transplant from someone who has died (deceased donor) is approximately 137 days (4.5 months).

Healthy people who wish to help a loved one or a stranger with liver disease may volunteer to give part of their liver. Volunteer is the key word – this must be something that you choose to do and feel comfortable doing.

Anyone volunteering will be asked to undertake a series of tests so that the transplant team can be absolutely sure that you are suitable to donate.

Your health and safety is of primary concern and it is important to be aware from the start that, even if you want to be a donor, not everyone is suitable and you may be unable to donate.

It is also important to remember that even if you do volunteer, you can change your mind at any point in the process – right up to the time of surgery.

Who can donate?

Most often donors are a close relative of the recipient, such as a family member, partner or good friend. However, people who do not know anyone with liver disease, but who wish to donate, can also provide part of their liver for someone on the transplant list. These people are known as non-directed altruistic donors.

To find out more about non-directed altruistic liver donation, you can contact the living donor liver coordinators at St. James Hospital, Leeds or King’s College Hospital, London where people have already donated in this way, or contact your closest liver transplant centre for further advice. For all other enquiries, it is best to contact the transplant centre where your intended recipient is being assessed for transplantation. You will find direct line contact numbers for the living donor liver coordinators here.

Is there an age limit for donors?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no lower age limit specified in law for a person to be considered as a living liver donor. In Scotland, only people over 16 years of age can be legally considered. However, almost all donors are over 18 years old and children are only considered in very exceptional circumstances, with court approval. Children are not considered as non-directed donors.

There is no fixed upper age limit but donors above the age of 45 years will only be considered if they are exceptionally fit and well. Donors are assessed very carefully and your suitability is considered by a team of professionals at the hospital.

How will I know if I am suitable to donate?

You will undergo a number of tests to check that you are fit and healthy enough to donate.

Some people who wish to donate find that they are not able to do so because of the results of the assessment process. Members of the team involved in your assessment will include doctors, coordinators, psychiatrists and independent
assessors. They will guide you through the process every step of the way.

Source: NHS Organ Donation

Read Damian's story here: Damian's Story

For further information, download the 'Becoming a living liver donor' leaflet from NHS Organ Donation.