When a liver becomes available, your name will be reviewed along with the others in the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) computerized waiting list. If your illness places you in the highest priority, you will be chosen as the recipient and contacted by the transplant coordinator.
At the Hospital
Once at the hospital, you will be prepared for surgery. It is both an exciting and frightening time, so it is important to have someone with you for support. The surgery is performed under general anesthesia and usually takes between six and eight hours for liver, and about four hours for kidney.
After the surgery, you will be moved to the surgical intensive care unit. You will stay in the ICU where the function of the transplanted liver will be monitored very closely in the first 1-2 days. If everything is working well, you may be moved to the transplant unit after 24 to 48 hours. Right away, you’ll start taking a medicine that dampers your immune system, so it’s less likely to damage the donated organ. You will be watched very closely for any side effects from these medicines.
You will also meet with a pharmacist, social worker, dietitian, and diabetic nurse if you have or develop diabetes. All of these people will contribute to your education and help you learn to take your medications correctly, prevent infections, get appropriate follow up including lab draws and to make the necessary arrangements for your discharge – which, if everything goes well, should be anywhere from 4 to 7 days.
Like all surgeries, there are risks to transplant surgery. These will be discussed in-depth with your transplant team but include bleeding, infection, and wound complications.
Sometimes, after you arrive at the hospital for your transplant, we find that for some medical reason, the surgery may have to be postponed (for example, you may have an infection). The donor liver may also have developed some problem that makes it unsuitable for transplant. Although disappointing, this is a temporary setback and the search for a new liver will continue.