Liver transplants save lives
We’ve all known since childhood that the liver is one of the most important organs of our body, and its proper functioning is crucial for our health…
This little organ which only weighs around 3 pounds performs multiple complex functions at a single time. It is located just below the diaphragm on the right side of the abdomen in our body.
Now, let's dive in to know about its importance, shall we?
The liver is involved in the detoxification of all the harmful toxins that enter your body along with the conversion of nutrients into hormones. This complex process is supported by the many enzymes which are present in the liver. ‘Emulsification of fats’ also plays an important function in the liver as it is involved in the production of bile juice. Now that we know why the liver is so important, it isn’t hard to imagine and understand why damage to the liver is extremely harmful to the normal functioning of the body.
When does the patient need a liver transplant?
Your liver transplant specialist may determine whether or not you need a liver transplant after taking you through some tests like blood tests to assess the conditions of other vital organs such as kidney, heart, etc. along with the state of the immune system. Once the tests are done the search for an appropriate donor comes to play. There are two possible types of donors; one is a living donor who donates a part of their liver and the other is a just dead person who donates their liver.
The medical conditions that require a liver transplant are liver cirrhosis, alcohol / non-alcohol induced fatty liver, hepatitis, hepatic tumours, and various genetic disorders. These conditions cut-off the blood supply to the healthy tissue replacing it with scar tissues.
A liver transplant is executed only when the procedure enhances the patient’s quality of life by solving the underlying health issue faced by the patient.
Who can donate their liver?
Now, if you have decided to opt-in for the noble cause by giving a part of your organ to another person, certain standards of health need to be met before you are tagged ‘ELIGIBLE’ to donate your liver.
Here are a few of the requirements:
- The donor must be healthy.
- The donor must be between the ages of 18-60 years old.
- Preferably the donor and recipient blood group must be the same to prevent the use of strong immunosuppressant.
- The size of the liver of the donor and recipient must match.
- The donor and recipient should preferably have a good emotional connection.
Types of liver transplants
As previously discussed, donors can be of two types: living and dead. The liver is completely transplanted in the case of a dead donor whereas only a small part of the liver is used in the procedure in the case of living donor transplantation. The part of the liver donated is regenerated in the donor. Living donor transplantations are preferred for the following reasons:
- The relatives of the patient are preferred as donors as there are no delays in the transplantation process and the patient’s family may not have to waste time looking for a donor.
- There is less risk of complications and death post-transplant.
- Cadaveric donors that match the UNOS standards are hard to come across.
What does life look like after a liver transplant?
So, let’s assume to plan to go ahead with the liver transplant process.
Now, many patients come up to our panel of doctors asking, “How will life be after the Transplant?”
As per our medical officer Dr Rachel Sharma,
- A majority of the patients have a very good quality of life and return to work as normal.
- It is perfectly normal to start playing sports and exercise 3 months after the surgery although high contact sports such as boxing should be avoided up to 6 months to a year after surgery.
- Normal activities such as driving may be started 3 months post-surgery but it is highly inadvisable to drive after taking pain medications due to their narcotic content. While travelling always make sure that you have an adequate supply of medications.
- There are no restrictions on sexual activity; donors are permitted to engage in sexual activities a month after the surgery and recipients can do so 2-3 months after the procedure.
- Women shouldn’t conceive for up to 6 months after donation and 12 months after transplantation. Hepatologists, gynaecologists must be consulted before consuming oral contraceptives.
- Your physician must be made aware of all medications that you are on. Any medications must be discussed with the concerned practitioner(s) involved in your transplant, retention and restoration process.
- Always follow-up with the advised check-ups and always get the required tests done.
After your transplant, your diet changes significantly, as you must avoid taxing your liver too much with highly complex foods. Here’s what your suggested diet may look like:
- Include at least 5 portions of fruits and veggies in the diet.
- Include lean meats, poultry in the plan.
- Focus on consuming whole grains.
- Opt for a high-fibre based diet.
- Drink low-fat milk and consume low-fat dairy products to avoid burdening your liver while still maintaining the body’s calcium levels.
- Avoid salty and high fatty foods.
- Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited.
- Always stay hydrated.
- Avoid foods that react adversely with immunosuppressants.
While we’ve discussed what we should do post the transplantation process, it is always safer to be prepared for the unforeseen. Here are a few of the complexities that may arise post-surgery.
- Although a rare occurrence, some patients do face bleeding post-op which is easily controllable in most cases but may require reopening of the sutures to control it.
- Sometimes, though rarely, the newly transplanted liver may face non-function.
- Sometimes, blood clotting may occur in the arteries of the liver.
- Post-operative infections may occur if the body is resistant to antibiotics and are only worsened by the use of immunosuppressants.
- Sometimes, the host body may reject the transplanted organ which is prevented only by the lifelong use of immunosuppressant drugs by the recipient of the organ.
For obvious reasons, the prospect of undergoing such a huge procedure that is simultaneously life-threatening and life-changing is daunting. But it is important to calmly collect and process all the possible information of what it would entail and that is exactly what we’ve tried to put up here for you.
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