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Living-donor liver transplant

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 16, 2018.


A living-donor liver transplant involves transplanting a portion of the liver from a living donor into a recipient whose liver no longer functions properly.

The donor's remaining liver regenerates itself and returns to its normal volume and capacity within a couple of months after the surgery. Meanwhile, the transplanted liver portion grows and restores normal liver function in the recipient.

Living liver donor procedure

During living liver donation, surgeons remove approximately 60 percent of the donor liver and place it into the recipient.

Living-donor liver organ regeneration

Within the first week after living-donor liver surgery, the donor's liver starts to grow back to its normal size. Standard liver volume returns within about two months after donation.

Why it's done

The number of people waiting for a liver transplant greatly exceeds the number of available deceased-donor livers.

Living-donor liver transplant provides an alternative to waiting for a deceased-donor liver to become available. Having a living liver donor also allows the recipient to avoid potential health complications associated with waiting for transplant.

Living-donor liver transplants are more common among children needing a liver transplant than among adults due to the scarcity of appropriately sized deceased-donor organs.

Most living liver donors are close family members or friends of the liver transplant candidates.

What you can expect

Before the procedure

To be considered for a living-donor liver transplant, both the donor and recipient must undergo a thorough health and psychological evaluation at a transplant center. Separate transplant teams will care for the donor and recipient during the evaluation process and will discuss the potential benefits and risks of the procedure in detail.

For example, while the procedure is often potentially lifesaving for the recipient, donating a portion of a liver carries significant risks for the donor.

Matching of living-donor livers with recipients is based on age, blood type, organ size and other factors.

During the procedure

On the day of transplant, surgeons first operate on the donor, removing a portion of the liver for transplant. Then surgeons remove the diseased liver and place the donated liver portion in the recipient's body and connect the blood vessels and bile ducts to the new liver.

The transplanted liver in the recipient as well as the portion left behind in the donor regenerates rapidly, reaching normal liver volume and function within a couple of months.

People who receive a liver from a living donor often have better short-term survival rates than those who receive a deceased-donor liver. But comparing long-term results is difficult because people who have a living donor usually have a shorter wait for a transplant and aren't as sick as those who receive a deceased-donor liver.

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