Just as it is said that the heart is the center of the circulatory system of the body, our liver heads the chemical processing system of our body. It contributes towards all metabolic processes, has a significant role in digestion and synthesizing of important proteins and enzymes, and plays a crucial role in blood clotting too. Did you also know that the liver is the largest organ of our body?
Thus, it is obvious that a human body needs a health liver to function rightly and that it cannot live without it. Although the liver has self-healing capabilities wherein it replaces damaged tissues with new cells, there are cases wherein the damage to the liver cannot be reversed and medical intervention is needed. This is when a liver transplant is spoken about. In very simple terms, a liver transplant is an operation that replaces a patient’s unhealthy liver with a whole or partial healthy liver from another person. It is generally a last-resort measure for chronic and severe acute liver diseases.
Liver transplantation is a surgical procedure that is undertaken for surgically replacing a failing or diseased liver with one that is healthy and fully-functional. Currently, a liver transplant is the only definite cure for people suffering from liver cancer (Hepatocellular carcinoma), acute or chronic liver failure. This is because no other machine or device can perform the functions as efficiently and effectively as the liver does.
A liver transplant can easily extend the life span of an ailing person. As per statistics released by The American Liver Foundation, it has been observed that nearly 85- 87 % of all patients who have undergone a liver transplant and have gone on to live for at least 5 years' post-surgery. In the case of children, the results are even better as nearly 82 % of children who have received a new liver have gone on to live for at least 10 years' after surgery. The most commonly used technique for liver transplant is the Orthotopic liver transplantation. In this procedure, the whole liver is taken out and then replaced by the donated liver.
While in most cases, the donated livers used for transplantation are obtained from patients that are brain dead or patients who are cardiac dead, the liver can also be transplanted from a living donor. We hope to make patients familiar with the various pros and cons of getting liver transplantation through the help of this comprehensive guide.
Who needs a liver transplant?
Treatment is based according to the symptoms on display and as per the results of various diagnostic tests, including blood tests, which help in determining the severity of the liver disease. Treatment may also be based on the various diseases or conditions that caused liver damage and or may not be reversible. Some of the tests or scoring systems which are used universally to help assess the severity and nature of the condition of the liver include:
Child-Pugh-Turcotte (CTP) score
Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score
PELD score in a pediatric population
Accordingly, low scores on these scoring systems usually mean that the patient does not require to get a liver transplant done. In the case of patients where the liver disease has progressed to an advanced stage with severe symptoms along with high scores on these tests, they will definitely be in need of an early transplant. Listed below are some other candidates who definitely require a liver transplant:
An early liver transplant may be recommended in case of patients where the liver disease has had secondary effects on other organs including the lungs (hepato-pulmonary syndrome), kidneys (hepato-renal syndrome) and even the brain.
Patients suffering from liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, may need an urgent transplant even if there is no severe underlying liver disease detected.
Patients suffering from acute liver failure generally tend to have a normal, non-cirrhotic liver which increased the chances for liver regeneration and potential recovery. That being said, once the damage has gone beyond a particular stage, recovery is highly unlikely. In such cases, the urgency of transplant is determined by the doctors.
Who Are Not Candidates for a Liver Transplant
There are several people who are deemed unsuitable or inappropriate candidates for a liver transplant before any operation, the concerned surgeon or physician weighs ups the pros and cons of the operation after taking the patient's personal history and circumstances into account. In that regard, a liver transplant will only be offered if the medical teams believe that the benefits of a liver transplant outweigh its risks. That said, here are some of the conditions which usually determine whether a person is fit or unfit for liver transplantation.
Patients with a history of active alcohol abuse.
Cancer which has gone on to spread beyond the liver.
Severe, untreatable diseases affecting the brain, heart or lung which has shortened life expectancy.
Uncontrolled or severe active infections.
A prior history of refusing to adhere to a medical regime.
Individuals afflicted with psychiatric diseases or conditions which are severe and uncontrollable in nature.
Types of donors: Finding a suitable donor includes finding a match in the following aspects:
It is crucial that once on the list, a patient should maintain good health by eating nutritious food, exercising well and by undergoing regular checkups and other preventive measures. This is important because the wait time for finding the right donor can be a long one. There are 3 types of donors that doctors essentially scout for:
Living donors - It is possible to donate a portion of the liver to a patient since a liver has the capability to grow back to its original size and does so in the donor’s as well as the patient’s body post operation. Although this process was envisioned for young children since finding a donor for them was tougher, it is now being used for adult-to-adult transplants too. A family member or loved one can volunteer to give a part of his/her liver. Right tests and measurements need to be done before considering this route and hence its best to meet your doctor with the volunteer and discuss this possibility in detail.
Brain dead organ donors - These cases result in a maximum number of donors for a liver transplant. Brain dead organ donors are those for whom a massive trauma has stopped all brain functions even though other organs including the liver continue to function normally. The organ is procured from the body and due diligence is taken in preserving it till it reaches the rightful recipient.
Cardiac death organ donors - After a family takes the tough decision of taking the patient off life-sustaining medical support to let him/her expire, an operation is performed to quickly remove organs for preservation and eventual transplant.
Do note that in none of the above cases, does the gender or the race of the donor impact the patient/recipient in any way. It is gender/ physical attributes agnostic procedure. Possible risks and complications post-transplant include:
As much as there is hope and optimism, it is crucial that patients and their families understand the process in detail, appreciate the challenges that are generally faced and learn to recognize symptoms that need to be escalated to the doctor at an urgent basis. It is reassuring to know there are few hospitals in India that leave no stone unturned in keeping all up to speed by doing the right diagnosis, having detailed discussions with the patients and their families to explain the procedure in detail and then performing transplants with international standards of accuracy and success rate.
Fortis has one of the largest and most comprehensive organ transplant programs in India with excellent medical care and facilities for pre and post-transplant management. Their liver care and transplantation team is led by the esteemed Dr Yashvanth Kumar, Dr Sumana Kolar Ramachandra and Dr. Mahesh Gopasetty. With a combined experience of more than 25 years, they have successfully performed over 2000 transplants. They have commendable expertise in all types of liver transplants (living and deceased donor), pediatric liver transplants, pancreas transplants and complex liver surgeries. They are also adept at delivering the best care for all benign diseases and cancers of the liver, biliary track and the pancreas.
With 56 hospitals across the nation and over 10,000 beds, Fortis Healthcare Limited is a leading integrated healthcare delivery service provider in India. For over 26 years, Fortis Hospitals have been committed to the cause of getting people back to their lives faster and stronger.