What to Expect During Live Donor Liver Surgery

The specialists at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center can help you understand what to expect during live donor liver transplantation. It is important that you are prepared for this surgery.

We schedule liver donor surgery to take place in the morning. You and the liver recipient are admitted into the hospital’s pre-op area two hours before surgery. Your family may accompany you. You will get an IV, and your abdominal area may need to be shaved.

When you are taken into the operating room, your family waits in the surgical waiting area. The live donor coordinator meets with them there and discusses a plan to keep them updated on the progress of your surgery.

Our anesthesiologists administer sedation through the IV to put you to sleep. Once you are asleep, the team inserts a tube in your throat that connects to a machine (ventilator) that helps you breathe. They also insert a thin tube (Foley catheter) into your urethra and into your bladder to allow urine to drain during the surgery.

We perform our living donor liver surgery using laparoscopic assisted techniques, which reduce the extent of the incision. Some of our living donors will be suitable for robotic surgery that uses minimally invasive techniques leading to small incisions, less postoperative pain and faster recovery. All your skin stitches are absorbable. You will also have a drain on the outside of your body to allow the escape of fluids that accumulate during recovery. This drain is usually removed prior to discharge.

What to Expect After Live Donor Liver Transplantation

Your hospital stay may last from four to seven days, depending on the speed of your recovery from surgery. You are discharged after your surgery when you are capable of urinating, walking and eating on your own. You won’t be allowed to drive yourself home, so we require that you arrange for a friend or family member to take you home when the time comes.

Keep in mind that you will need to visit the hospital about a week after your discharge and again about two to three weeks later. If you live far away, we can make arrangements to accommodate you at a nearby hotel.

Here is what you can generally expect during your recovery:

  • In two to three weeks: Your liver function normalizes. You are allowed to drive again when you regain your physical strength and stop taking pain medications.
  • In six to 12 weeks: Your activity level increases, and you may wish to return to work or school. Some people heal more quickly than others, so this time can vary from donor to donor.
  • In two to three months: Your liver volume will have regenerated to at least 80% of its original size. Most patients report feeling “completely normal,” and nearly all donors are back to work or school.

If you are a woman who is planning to become pregnant, we recommend you wait six months before conceiving to allow your body to recover from the donation.