Live Liver Donation Frequently Asked Questions
Facts About Living Liver Donation
What are the advantages to a recipient if they have a living donor?
- Decreased wait time, especially for people with less severe liver disease
- Allowing patients to return to a better quality of life in a much shorter time period
- Scheduled surgery, making it more convenient for patients and their families
What are the requirements for being a donor?
The UW Transplant staff carefully reviews each person's situation to see if they are a suitable live donor.
- Potential living donors are evaluated by the donor team. In general, living donors must be between the ages of 18 and 55 years of age, be blood type compatible with the patient, be in good health, and have an emotional relationship with the patient.
- Costs related to live donation are billed to the recipient’s insurance. Any questions about the financial aspects of donating can be direct to the transplant financial coordinator at
- Not all patients who need a liver transplant can receive a live donor liver, so this will also need to be assessed.
Does the donor need to be a relative?
Living liver donors and their recipient do not have to be blood related and any healthy person can give a friend or relative the gift of life. However, we do require that donors have an emotional relationship with the intended recipient.
May I get my evaluation done by my own doctor?
Generally, the tests are done at University Hospital in Madison, WI. If you live at a distance, we may have some portions of the initial evaluation done near your home. The evaluation process requires visits to University Hospital and the surgery must be performed there.
What will the surgery involve?
Potential live liver donors are educated on the risks associated with surgery, hospitalization, and recovery. The surgery to remove the portion of a donor's liver takes about 5 hours and the donor stays in the hospital for about seven days. Typically, the right lobe of the donor's liver is removed. During the surgery about 40 to 60 percent of the donor's liver is removed. The liver begins to regenerate almost immediately. Most of the regeneration occurs in the first two weeks after the surgery, followed by a slower phase of growth over the next year.
Will the donor have much pain after the surgery?
Unfortunately, live liver donors have significant pain after the surgery. We will give you pain medication but you will still be very uncomfortable for at least the first week. You will have less pain as each day goes by, but most of our live liver donors have a significant amount of discomfort for two to four weeks after surgery. Most pain medications make you drowsy, can affect your breathing and may cause nausea and constipation. We will work to find the right balance of pain medication to make you comfortable.
What are the costs for the donor?
The recipient's insurance pays for all live liver donor medical expenses related to donation. Travel costs and time away from work are often not covered by insurance and need to be considered. Costs to the donor include:
- Time off work
- Medications such as pain pills after the surgery
- Transportation for visits
- Non-hospital lodging costs, if needed
Donors that live in
What about donor care after donation?
The donor will be seen for a follow-up visit by the surgeon 2 to 3 weeks after donation, then again at one year and two years after donation. Live liver donors should have routine annual medical exams with their local doctor, There are no special diets or medicines that need to be taken after live liver donation.
How long is the living liver donor in the hospital and out of work?
- Recovery from living liver donation is different for each donor, but the average hospital stay after live liver donor surgery is five to eight days.
- Most people are able to return to work after eight weeks, depending on how the surgery goes and the type of job they have. We advise donors to plan to be off work for 8-16 weeks.
- If the live liver donor has a desk job, he/she may be able to return to work sooner than patients with a more physically demanding job.
What are the risks involved with being a living liver donor?
It is common for people to ask if it is safe to donate part of their liver. While the results of adult-to-adult living donor liver transplantation throughout the world are very good, the procedure is not without risk to the donor. Potential risks of this surgery include, but are not limited to, the list below.
- Blood clots in the legs or lung
- Fluid retention (edema)
- Bile leakage or bile duct complications
There are also non-medical risks to consider. These may include:
- Financial strain and potential impact on your job. You should plan on being off work for 8 to 16 weeks. It is possible that donating part of your liver will affect your job status long term.
- Problems getting insurance in the future. This can include health insurance and life insurance.
- Changes in your mood. This includes things such as adjustment disorders, anxiety or depression.
What are the risks for the recipient?
Living donor transplant is a more complex surgery. There is an increased risk for complications when a person gets a live donor liver transplant, specifically bile duct complications, when compared to a deceased donor. Most complications can be treated. However, there is a risk that complications will lead to graft loss or death.
Graft survival rates refer to how long a liver works. Three-year and five-year graft survival rates are lower for living donor livers than for livers from deceased donors.
What happens if I decide not to become a living liver donor?
If you decide not to become a donor, the recipient will remain active on the transplant list. The recipient also may choose to find another potential living liver donor.