What is a Living Donor Liver Transplant?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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A living donor liver transplant is a surgery through which a person receives a liver transplant from someone who is still alive. In such a case, the donor does not donate his entire liver, as it is needed for his own survival. Instead, he donates a portion of his liver. In many cases, this technique is successful and proves lifesaving for the liver donation recipient. Like all types of transplants, however, there are risks.

Living donor liver transplants allow doctors to save more lives than they might with only cadavers as donors. Often, people in need of liver transplants must wait until a suitable cadaver liver is available for donation. Unfortunately, many in need of liver transplants die while waiting.

A living donor liver transplant can be lifesaving, but also involves risk for both the donor and the recipient. In the donor's case, the major risk stems from that fact that a living donor procedure is a major surgery, and the donor could bleed excessively, develop an infection, or have an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. Sometimes a donor will need a blood transfusion as a result of the surgery, and blood clots may develop as well. Death is also a possibility, but this typically occurs in less than one percent of donors.


The risks for the recipient of a living donor liver transplant are often similar to those of the donor. Infection, excessive bleeding, blood clots, and other complications may develop. In addition, there is the risk that the patient’s body will reject the donor liver. In many cases, however, liver rejection can be treated with drugs that suppress the recipient’s immune system.

It may be hard to imagine how a person can live with only the portion of a liver obtained via a living donor liver transplant. Typically, however, the donated liver regenerates until it is an adequate size for the recipient’s body. The donor’s liver regenerates as well, so he is not missing the donated part.

Generally, a liver donor should be at least 18 years of age, have the same blood type as the recipient, and be the same size as the recipient or larger. Some people are not good donor candidates for a living donor liver transplant. For example, if a person has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis, a history of alcoholism, or cancer, he is unlikely to be considered as a donor. Likewise, patients who have mental health conditions or are taking medications for the treatment of lung and heart disease may not make good donors.



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