What Is Living Donor Liver Transplantation?

A living donor liver transplant is when a healthy person donates a portion of their liver to another person. The liver has the ability to regenerate itself in both the donor and recipient. This procedure can dramatically cut the risk of death and complications in the recipient and improvements in surgical techniques have helped to reduce the health risks for the donor.

In January 2006, Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed the world’s first laparoscopic (minimally invasive) live donor liver hepatectomy (the surgical removal of all or part of the liver). This technique, pioneered by Northwestern Medicine, is now being adopted by a select number of programs in the United States.

Since then, Northwestern Memorial Hospital has performed more than 270 living donor liver transplants, of which more than 200 have been performed laparoscopically, making us the largest living donor program in Illinois. Our Liver Transplant Program is one of the leaders in the country in offering adult-to-adult and adult-to-pediatric living donor liver transplantation.

Due to the success of liver transplantation, the number of patients waiting for a liver has increased dramatically during the past 10 years. Unfortunately, the number of donors has not kept pace. Currently, there are 11,360 people waiting for liver transplants in the United States, but only enough livers to perform about 9,000 transplants each year. Because of this organ shortage, almost 1,500 people die each year while waiting for a liver transplant.

Transplant patient and graft outcomes continue to be excellent and compare favorably with local, regional and national outcomes.

Who is a living donor candidate?

To be considered for a living liver donation, you must:

  • Have a compatible blood type to the recipient
  • Be 18 to 60 years old
  • have had no major abdominal surgery
  • Be in good health with no major medical or psychiatric illnesses
  • Be at a good weight
  • Be able to understand and comply with the instructions for surgery and recovery
  • Understand that the outcome of the transplant may not be as expected
  • Find great reward in saving a life

The tests you will undergo in preparation for the transplant include:

  • Medical history
  • Psychosocial history
  • Diagnostic tests, including EKG and chest X-ray
  • Evaluation of the liver's size
  • Evaluation of the liver's blood supply and bile ducts

Your independent donor advocate

It is important to know that it is your choice to donate. You must not feel pressured or that donating is something you “have to do.” This is a decision you need to make for yourself. You have the right to change your mind at any time. Your reasons for doing so will remain confidential. We will support you no matter what you decide.

Every donor is assigned an independent donor advocate. The independent donor advocate is involved only with your wellbeing and is not involved with the recipient. The advocate and transplant nurse coordinator gives you information about the donation surgery as well as about possible risks to both you and the recipient.

Related Resources


  • American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases: AASLD promotes liver health, awareness and resources for the patient and also announces research awards.
  • American Liver Foundation: The ALF offers an array of information about liver disease and transplantation, as well as clinical trials and chapter locations and specifics. The Illinois chapter features an online support group and message board.
  • Coalition on Donation: This organization promotes and provides education about organ donation.
  • Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network: This not-for-profit organ procurement organization works with hospitals and donor families in the northern three-fourths of Illinois and northwest Indiana. The organization is responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for medical transplantation, as well as for professional and public education on organ and tissue donation.
  • MedlinePlus: Liver Transplantation: Extensive array of information resources regarding all aspects of liver transplantation. Selected and maintained by the National Library of Medicine.
  • National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking this initiative to ease the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors by building a national community of organ sharing.
  • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network: OPTN is a unique public-private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): Click on "Transplant Living" for information, resources and tools for patients, families and caregivers.
  • U.S. Transplant: Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients: Check Transplant Statistics to see how NMH stands in relation to other transplant centers.