Life of a Donor After a Liver Transplant 

The concept of donating an organ is still foreign to many in India because of the lack of awareness amongst the masses. Many are not even aware that they can donate a portion of their liver. Therefore, when asked to donate, the donors go through a terrifying phase and have apprehensions regarding how their quality of life would be after the transplant and whether or not life will be the same as before.

From our experience, walking them through the concept, the process, the risks involved, etc., break down their walls and tends to calm them down.

We have collated a few commonly asked questions down below to give a donor perspective on how their life will be after the surgery.

What happens immediately after the surgery?

After the surgery, the donor is moved to the intensive care unit (ICU). The critical care team monitors progress and controls the pain with medications. Depending on recovery, liver donors are usually transferred to a regular room after a day.

When can the donor leave the hospital?

Over the next 3 to 5 days, the appetite, bowel function, and ability to move around should improve. The care team will help the donor get up and start walking. This helps lessen the chances of having blood clots in the legs. Walking is the most important thing to do after the surgery since it is the essential step in the healing process. 

They are discharged from the hospital when they:

  • Can eat and drink properly
  • Have normal bowel and bladder function
  • Do not need extra oxygen
  • Have normal vital signs and temperature
  • Can get out of bed and walk around without any significant help

What is the recovery time?

Most Liver Transplant donors can leave the hospital 5-7 days after the surgery. 

The donor liver will regenerate to its original size (almost) in 6-8 weeks. Most importantly, the donor must understand that each individual’s healing process is different. Everyone recovers at a different pace after major surgery. While most liver donors are back to normal after about 6 or 7 weeks after surgery, some can take 4-5 months to get back to normal.

What are the risks associated with the surgery?

All surgeries have risk. Before the surgery, the Liver Transplant surgeon will have a long conversation with the donor regarding the prepping process, the surgery, its risk and how it is possible to manage problems if they should arise.

Are there any problems that will arise post-surgery?

Most problems after the surgery occur within a few days or weeks. It is important to remember that most of these problems are short-term and not life-threatening. Since it is a complex surgery, it is better to have an idea about the possible risks:

  • Fatigue due to a part of the liver that is removed,
  • Allergic reaction to the anaesthesia,
  • Gastrointestinal upset (constipation, occasional nausea and diarrhoea), which usually goes away in a few weeks,
  • Blood clots in the legs,
  • Wound infection,
  • Pneumonia,
  • Nausea, and
  • Pain and discomfort.

What are the precautions to be taken after the liver transplant?

Some precautions need to be taken after the surgery. The donor needs to strictly follow specific steps to make the recovery process smooth and easy. 

  • Medications:
    • Medications and antibiotics should be taken as prescribed and on time
    • Different medications need to be taken for incision pain and gastrointestinal issues. 
  • Diet plans: 
    • Eating a healthy balanced diet
    • Drinking lots of water. It is essential to stay hydrated during the recovery process
    • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to help avoid constipation
    • Not to consume alcohol for at least three months after the surgery
  • Activity:
    • Slow and moderate exercises 
    • Walking and climbing stairs
    • No lifting any heavy objects, and
    • Getting help to handle strenuous household duties and childcare
  • Travel & Work:
    • It is better to avoid long travel
    • Making sure to get up and walk at least 10 minutes every hour for any travel that requires sitting for long hours (+1 hour)
    • Consulting their doctor before going on any trip, and
    • If the donor has a desk job, they can return to work by 6-8 weeks after the surgery. While at the job, they must ensure to extend and flex their legs at least ten times an hour. 

The donor needs regular follow-up visits to ensure their well-being. Usually, these appointments happen six months and 1 or 2 years after the surgery. Some transplant hospitals and centres would want to see the donor once every five years to track their progress and well-being. 

After the donor’s surgery, life will get back to normal after a few months for the donor. The scar will also soften with time, but it will always be a reminder that they gave someone life!

Get in touch with Chennai Liver Foundation to learn more about Liver transplant surgery in Chennai.

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