How to Become a Liver Donor
Organ donation helps improve and save thousands of lives each year. In 2019, 165 million Americans were registered as organ donors. However, approximately 114,000 patients are still awaiting life-saving organ transplants.
Most donated organs come from deceased patients. However, it is also possible to use certain tissues and organs from living donors. Living donation means that more people are able to get the organs they need, faster, allowing doctors to save more lives.
One of the most common organs to come from living donors is the liver. In this article, we explain how to become a liver donor, who can donate their liver, and what the process entails.
What It Means to Be an Organ Donor
Becoming an organ donor means giving permission for doctors to use your organs to help another person, usually in the event of your death. However, it is also possible to donate certain tissues and organs while you are still alive.
In many cases, people become living donors to help a relative in need of a transplant. However, approximately 25% of live organ recipients are not biologically related to the donor.
The organs and tissues most often involved in living donations include:
- One of two kidneys
- One of two lungs, or part of a lung
- Part of the liver
- Part of the pancreas
- Part of the intestines
- Cells from bone marrow or umbilical blood
For a transplant to be successful, the donor and recipient must have a similar body size and matching blood type. This is why most living organ transplants are from close family members.
How to Become a Liver Donor
It is possible to become a living liver donor because the liver has the ability to regenerate. The organ consists of two lobes, and only one of these is required for a transplant. After surgery the remaining lobe will produce new cells, and the liver will return to its original size in just a few months.
To become a liver donor, it is first necessary to undergo an evaluation. This is to ensure that the process will not have a significant negative impact on the donor’s physical, psychological, or emotional health.
Like any surgery, liver donation carries certain risks and you must be aware of these. Although it is a relative safe operation, possible complications include:
- Allergic reactions to anesthesia
- Post-operative pain or nausea
- Blood clots
- Bile leakage or other bile duct problems
- Post-surgical hernias
There are also financial implications, such as not being able to work during recovery, and potentially higher insurance costs. Therefore, individuals should carefully weigh up the benefits and risks before making the decision to become a liver donor.
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Liver Donation Process
The first stage of becoming a liver donor is the evaluation process. Potential donors will have to undergo various tests to ensure that they are in good physical and mental health. The process may involve two full days of appointments and testing, including blood tests, x-rays, and more.
The evaluation stage is also the part of the process where doctors determine whether the donor’s tissue type is compatible with the recipient.
If the results of the evaluation are satisfactory, the donor will meet with a transplant team to discuss what the surgery entails and its potential risks. Note that it is possible for the donor to withdraw at any point if they change their mind about the procedure.
Following evaluation, the surgery will be scheduled. Unless it is urgent, the procedure will usually be scheduled 4–6 weeks in advance.
After surgery, the donor may need to stay in hospital for up to a week. They will then have a further 6–8 weeks of recovery time at home. During this period, it is normal to feel some discomfort which can be managed with medication.
It is advisable to avoid heavy lifting and walk short distances several times a day during recovery. It is also important not to drive or operate machinery if taking any sedating drugs like painkillers.
The transplant team will continue to monitor the donor and recipient throughout the recovery period.
Who Should and Shouldn’t Donate Organs?
Living organ donors should be healthy, physically fit, and aged between 18 and 60 years. People who should not donate organs include those with:
- Chronic illnesses (diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney or heart disease, hepatitis, etc.)
- Chronic or active infections
- A body mass index over 35
- Active substance abuse disorders
However, people in these categories can still register to become a deceased organ donor. In the event of their death, their organs will be assessed and may still be suitable for donation.
Why Is Organ Donation Important?
Organ donation literally saves lives. Most donations currently come from deceased patients, accounting for approximately 8,000 donations each year. However, these organs only go to the patients most in need, leaving many people on the waiting list for extended periods.
Living donations are a way to increase the number of patients who can benefit from organ transplants. However, they currently only account for around 6,000 donations each year. Live organ donations are especially useful for liver transplants as the operation is relatively safe and the liver can quickly regenerate itself.
To learn more and register as an organ donor, visit the official < ahref="https://www.organdonor.gov/register.html">Health Resources and Services Administration website.