The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and is comprised of two major sections. These sections are called the right and the left lobe. The liver is a major organ of digestion that helps absorb nutrients and process food. Filtering blood coming from the digestive tract before it passes to the rest of the body, the liver is responsible for detoxifying chemicals found in the blood as well as metabolizing medications. The liver is also responsible for creating proteins that clot the blood.
Diseases, injury and cancers of the liver may interfere with other body organs and functions. Some of the most common conditions afflicting the liver include hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Any of these conditions can so damage the liver that it fails to function properly. A failing liver can result in eventual death, and a liver transplant is often recommended.
Individuals diagnosed with a number of liver problems, chronic liver failure or acute liver failure caused by conditions likes cirrhosis of the liver, cystic fibrosis, liver cancer, hemochromatosis or cholangitis may be excellent candidates for liver transplant procedures.
Individuals undergoing a liver transplant procedure will need to engage in a number of laboratory, imaging and other health testing and examination procedures. Patients are then placed on a waiting list. Unfortunately, the number of individuals requiring liver transplants far exceeds the number of livers available for transplant.
The order of priority for individuals placed on waiting is determined by what is called a MELD score, which stands for Model for End-Stage Liver Disease. The higher the MELD score, the higher up on the donor list you will be placed.
Most livers come from deceased individuals, although some live-liver transplants do take place when adequate matches to donor organs are available. A living donor transplant is often performed among family members who donate a small portion of their liver to the patient. However, patients should realize that risks and accessibility to good donor matches rely on the age, health, and size of the donor and carry huge risks to the donor's overall future health and wellness.
When a liver becomes available, the patient is prepared for surgery and is placed under general anesthesia, meaning they'll be asleep during the procedure. An incision is made in the upper abdomen, just below the rib cage, to offer access to the liver. However, surgeons will determine their approach to the surgical procedure depending on your size, shape and their own discretion.
The surgeon then severs blood vessels that supply blood to the liver. They also sever bile ducts attached to the liver. The diseased liver is then removed from the patient's body. The portion or liver from the donor is then inserted into its place, and the bile ducts and blood vessels are reattached. The surgical process usually takes between 10 to 12 hours.
Following the surgery, the liver transplant patient remains in an intensive care unit for up to several days, where complications such as infection or rejection of the liver will be watched for. Patients can anticipate spending at least 1 to 2 weeks in the hospital.
Patients will need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. These anti rejection medications are called immunosuppressive drugs. These drugs prevent the body's immune system from thinking that the donor liver is a foreign body and attacking it. Full recovery takes between six months and a year, although patients are generally able to engage in normal daily activities within a few months following the surgery.
Surgeons who have completed general surgery requirements and training are eligible for organ transplant training and education. Accredited and certified surgeons should belong to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons in the U.S. or other similar organizations or boards in the surgeon’s country of origin. Always verify the education, training and experience of any surgeon who may perform surgery and make sure they are licensed to practice in the facility of your choice.
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