Liver transplantation

A liver transplant is an operation where your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy donor human liver.

Although liver transplants are now quite common, the operation is not undertaken lightly. It is a major operation and the body will always see the ‘new’ liver as a foreign agent and will try to destroy it.

You may need a liver transplant if your liver is damaged to the point where it is unable to repair itself and is likely to fail completely. Your doctor may advise you to have a transplant when it is thought this will either dramatically improve your quality of life or that, without a transplant, you will die.

Why do need people need a liver transplant?

The main causes of severe liver damage that lead to people needing a transplant are:

● cirrhosis

● hepatitis

● metabolic conditions (problems with the physical and chemical processes that take place inside your liver to keep you alive)

● paracetamol poisoning.

Facts about liver transplantation

By the time you discover you need a transplant your liver might begin to fail and your quality of life may be very poor. You may have experienced the following symptoms:
● loss of appetite
● generally feeling unwell and being tired all the time
● feeling sick and being sick
● very itchy skin
● loss of weight and muscle wasting
● enlarged and tender liver (you may feel verymtender below your right ribs)
● increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs (medical and recreational)
● yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
● swelling of the lower abdomen, or tummy (ascites), or the legs (peripheral oedema)
● fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
● vomiting blood
● dark black tarry stools (faeces) or pale stools, associated with cholestatic disease
● periods of mental confusion.

If your transplant is successful, not only should these problems clear up but you will have a longer life expectancy.

When a suitable donor is found the hospital will contact you. This can happen at any time, day or night. You will either be offered
transport to the hospital or you can choose to make your own way there.

You must stop eating and drinking immediately as soon as you receive the phone call. If you have diabetes, tell your transplant coordinator.

When you arrive at the hospital you will be taken to a ward where your doctor will go through your medical history and you will have a chest X-ray and an ECG. You will be required to wash with an antiseptic soap in readiness for the operation. An anaesthetist will give you an injection, called a pre-med, to help you relax. A small needle, called a canula, will be put into the back of your hand or your wrist. This will help the anaesthetist give you the drugs for the operation. You will then be taken to the operating theatre where any friends or relatives will have to leave you. At this point, you will be connected to several machines to measure your heart rhythm and blood pressure and the anaesthetist will put you to sleep.