Every 10 minutes, a new name is added to the national transplant waiting list. Organ transplants are an essential modern medical technique for saving the lives of patients whose organs are failing due to illness or congenital anomaly. Of the roughly 114,000 people who are currently in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, nearly 13,000 are waiting for a new liver.
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body and typically weighs about three pounds. It produces proteins, carbohydrates, and fats while also storing vitamins from the foods we ingest. It also plays an important role in breaking down toxic substances in our body. When a person goes into liver failure, their liver may need to be surgically removed and replaced with a whole or partial healthy liver from another person. The liver is the only organ in the human body that is able to regenerate itself, so a piece of a healthy liver can eventually grow to normal size.
Today in the United States:
- Over 8,000 liver transplants are performed annually
- The national one-year survival rate is 90.9 percent.
- The national median wait time for a liver transplant is 15 months.
Common liver diseases that may result in the need of a liver transplant include:
- Hepatitis (viral, autoimmune, and idiopapathic)
- Acute hepatic necrosis, or acute liver failure. This condition can emerge in patients who are malnourished or abuse alcohol.
- Portal hypertension
- Liver tumors
- Metabolic diseases
- Biliary atresia
There are several factors used to match organs with patients in need. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), has policies and computerized networks that align transplant candidates with donated organs in ways that save as many lives as possible, along with providing patients with the best chance of long-term wellness. Things like income, insurance or celebrity play absolutely no role in who is prioritized for transplant.
When a liver becomes available, several factors are considered in the matching process from donor to recipient including:
- Blood type. The blood type of the recipient and donor need to be compatible.
- Body size. The size of the donor liver is a factor in the matching process.
- Stage of liver disease. Patients who require liver transplants usually have either acute or chronic liver failure.
- Overall health. The patient must be likely to survive the surgery and post-operative care.
- Availability of matching liver. Geography and timing are important factors because donor livers can be preserved for up to 12 hours.
While 90% of U.S. adults say they support organ donation only 60% are actually signed up. Organ donors can save up to nine lives, and one donor’s liver may actually be able to be transplanted into more than one patient as part of a split liver transplant. If you haven’t already, please consider becoming an organ donor today.
A registered organ donor can save up to 9 lives. Learn more at Ochsner.org/save9