If you want to become a living liver donor, you've made a choice that may save someone's life. But your decision to help is just the first step. To get approved, you'll need a physical exam, medical tests, mental health checks, and a lot more.
It might take 4 to 6 months until you get the OK. Every transplant center has its own specific process, but there are some general steps you can expect.
Questions About Your Health
First, you'll contact the transplant center that is caring for the person who'll receive your liver. You'll be asked questions about your age and general health. Doctors at the center will review the details.
If you're under 18, over 60, or have a major medical problem, your desire to be a donor will likely stop here. But if you meet the transplant center's age and health guidelines for living liver donors, you'll go on to the next step.
Your blood type needs to be a good match with the person who will get your liver. This can be figured out with a simple blood test. Other blood tests will check how well your liver is working and confirm that you're in good health.
You may need to go to a special lab to have your blood drawn, or you may be able to have these tests at your local hospital.
Meetings to Understand the Process
You will be asked to meet with a living donor team, a group of experts who will have your best interests at heart. They'll explain how the transplant surgery works. They'll also want to make sure you're ready for how this process could affect you emotionally or financially.
Your team could include:
- Hepatologist (transplant doctor who treats the liver)
- Nurse coordinator
- Finance coordinator
- Social worker
- Living donor advocate
- Nutrition expert
This is also a good time for you to ask questions or bring up concerns you may have. Your team can also put you in touch with someone who donated their liver in the past. That way, you can get a firsthand account of what it's like and get insights into the decision-making process that others went through.
In a WebMD survey in collaboration with UPMC, the top reason respondents gave for being a living donor is to save a life, especially of a loved one or friend. Younger people more often noted that it's unfair that someone who needs a new liver might not survive when they could save their life by becoming a donor.
About half of respondents say they would consider being a donor because they realize they might need one someday themselves.
Medical History and Physical Exam
You'll be asked many questions about your physical health and family medical history. You'll get a thorough exam by a doctor, and you'll have tests that may include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan of your belly
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Urine test
- Liver biopsy
The transplant center may order more blood tests or image scans. Sometimes, you're able to have all of these tests at a hospital near your home.
Mental Health Check
Doctors will also want to make sure that you're in good mental health. You'll be asked questions about your state of mind and how much stress you're under. The transplant center will want to know about the kind of support system of friends and family members you have.
You may also need to take either a psychiatric or psychological test.
What Happens Next
After the tests and meetings are done, the transplant team will meet. They'll look at all these details about your health and decide if you're a good match for the recipient. If so, you'll get a date for surgery that works for both you and the person who will receive your liver.
If you're not a good match, doctors will tell you why. The recipient will only be told that you were "declined." It's up to you to decide whether to share more details with them.
If You Change Your Mind
The offer to become a living liver donor is an amazing act of kindness. It's also a big commitment. At any point in the process, if you want to change your mind, you're allowed to do so.
Your transplant team will respect your choice and keep your decision private. Many doctors will simply tell the person who needs a liver transplant that you are "no longer a good match." The recipient can then stay on the waiting list to get a liver from a deceased donor or try to find another living donor.