What Is Liver Transplantation?
Liver transplantation surgery involves the replacement of a diseased liver with a healthy liver from a deceased organ donor or part of a liver from a living donor. During the surgery, your diseased liver is removed through an incision in the upper abdomen. The donor liver is put in place and attached to your blood vessels and bile ducts. The operation may take up to 12 hours and requires a large amount of transfused blood.
The function of the liver is to:
- Store vitamins, minerals and sugar
- Make bile, a liquid that aids in digesting fat and proteins and absorbing vitamins A, D, E and K
- Metabolize (break down) carbohydrates to produce energy
- Produce the protein that regulates blood clotting
- Remove harmful bacteria from the blood
- Remove toxins from the blood, such as those from medication or alcohol
When the liver stops functioning—known as liver failure—treatment is needed. A team of specialists* will determine if you are a good candidate for liver transplantation. If so, you will be registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) to find a donor liver.
Living donor liver transplantation
In some cases, a living donor may donate a section of liver for transplant to someone else, often a family member or friend. This poses some risk to the donor because of the nature of the operation, but since the liver can regenerate itself to some extent, both parties usually end up with fully functioning livers after a successful transplant.
More than 2,300 liver transplants have been performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Over the last five years, Northwestern Medicine surgeons have performed 515 liver transplants, including 44 living donor liver transplants, making the Liver Disease and Transplant Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital the largest liver transplant program in Illinois and one of the largest in the country. In 2021, Northwestern Medicine surgeons performed 109 liver transplants, including 11 adult living donor liver transplants. Transplant patient and graft outcomes continue to be excellent and compare favorably with local, regional and national outcomes. View our center-specific performance data as well as data of other centers.