How a liver transplant is performed 

You'll be contacted by staff at the liver transplant centre as soon as a suitable liver becomes available.

The call could be at any time during the day or night, so you may be given a bleeper to alert you. If necessary, you may be given transport to the transplant centre.

Unless advised otherwise, it's important not to eat or drink anything from the time the transplant centre contacts you.

Once you arrive at the transplant centre, you will be given a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (ECG) so that your heart and lung function can be reassessed. You will then be given a general anaesthetic in preparation for the transplant.

Types of transplant

There are three main types of liver transplant:

Orthotopic transplant

The most common type of liver transplant is an orthotopic transplant, where a whole liver is taken from a recently deceased donor.

The surgeon will make a cut in your tummy and remove your liver. The donor liver will then be put in position and connected to your blood vessels and bile ducts.

After the donor liver is in place, the incision will be closed using surgical clips. Drainage tubes will be attached to drain away extra fluids, and they will usually remain attached for several days after surgery.

Living donor transplant

During a living donor transplant, the donor – who will usually be a close family member – will have an operation to remove either the left or right side (lobe) of their liver.

Right lobe transplants are usually recommended for adults. For children, left lobe transplants are recommended. This is because the right lobe is bigger and better suited for adults, while the left lobe is smaller and better suited for children.

After the donor operation, your liver will be removed and replaced with the donor's liver lobe. Your blood vessels and bile ducts will then be connected.

Following transplantation, the transplanted lobe and the donor's remaining lobe will quickly regenerate themselves. In most cases, they will regrow to their normal size within two or three months.

Split donation

A split donation may be carried out if a donor liver becomes available from a recently deceased person, and an adult and a child are both suitable candidates to receive half.

The donated liver will be split into the left and right lobes. The larger right lobe will be transplanted into the adult, and the smaller left lobe will usually be transplanted into the child.

After the operation

Once the transplant is complete, you will be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU).

A machine called a ventilator will assist you with your breathing, and a tube will be inserted through your nose and into your stomach to provide you with fluid and nutrients. These will normally be removed after a few days.

You'll also be given pain relief as required.

Most people are well enough to move from the ICU and into a hospital ward within a few days. You'll usually be able to leave hospital within two weeks, although you will need to have regular follow-up appointments and take medication to help stop your body rejecting your new liver.

Read more about living with a liver transplant.

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2015

Next review due: 01/01/2018