A pediatric liver transplant is a medical procedure in which the diseased liver of a child is removed and then replaced with a donor liver. Some medical conditions that may lead to a pediatric liver transplant include hepatitis or liver damage caused by certain medications. The donated liver can either be from a living donor or a deceased organ donor. In many cases, a small portion of the liver is all that is needed for the transplant. Unlike other organs, the cells of the liver are able to regenerate into an appropriately sized liver for the individual.
There are a variety of acquired and genetic diseases, such as hepatitis or Wilson's disease, that can cause a child's liver to stop performing properly. In the more severe cases of liver damage, a pediatric liver transplant may become necessary. A transplant evaluation will be scheduled to make sure that the child is healthy enough to undergo such a major surgery. The child will then be placed on a national waiting list so that the family can be called when a suitable liver has been found. In some cases, a close family member may be a match, and the wait time for the transplant can be dramatically reduced.
The wait time for a pediatric liver transplant can vary from just a few days to several years, as there is no way to accurately predict how long it will take to find a matching donor. Once placed on the waiting list, the patient's family must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice to report to the transplant facility once a liver is found. Some facilities will provide a beeper at no charge to the patient so that the medical team can reach the family at all times.
A pediatric liver transplant normally takes between four and eight hours to complete. The child will have a tube, called an IV, inserted into a vein so that medications can be delivered directly into the bloodstream. The child will be asleep during the entire procedure. The diseased liver is then removed and sent to a laboratory for testing before the new liver is surgically placed into the body and any incisions are closed. If there has been a lot of blood loss during the procedure, a blood transfusion may be performed.
Depending on the overall health of the patient, the hospital stay following a pediatric liver transplant can last for several days or weeks. The medical team will carefully monitor the patient's vital signs to make sure all bodily systems are functioning normally. The patient will then be given discharge instructions and scheduled for a follow-up appointment with the surgeon for continued care.