Liver Transplants: Effects on the Donor

In today’s fast-paced world where technology rules, the medical profession is also advancing. In 1991, 2,900 liver transplants were performed in the United States while there were 30,000 canidates for the procedure in the United States alone (Heffron, T. G., 1993). Due to shortages of available organs for donation/transplantation, specifically livers, once again science has come to the rescue. Although the procedure is fairly new in the United States, the concept of living organ donation is fast growing.

Living related liver transplantion was first proposed as a theoretical entity in 1969 but it was not until almost twenty years later that the procedure became a clinical reality (Heffron, T. G., 1993). Living related liver transplants have mainly been performed in the United States and Japan until recently. In 1991 Europe began trying to institute the procedure. The first transplant of this type took place in 1989 (Broelsch, C. E., Burdelski, M., Rogiers, X., Gundlach, M., Knoefel, W. T., Langwieler, T., Fischer, L., Latta, A., Hellwege, H., Schulte, F., Schmiegel, W., Sterneck, M., Greten, H., Kuechler, T., Krupski, G., Loeliger, D., Kuehnl, P., Pothmann, W., & Schulte Am Esch, J., 1994). This concept still has many areas that have not yet been explored in depth and there are sensitive issues involved that need to be addressed.

Live organ donation came about as a means to solve the problem of the absence of a donor. Many people die every year while waiting for a donor organ and many others suffer because of complications linked to finding a suitable donor. Before live organ donation most available organs were harvested/transplanted from cadavers.

This procedure has problems of its own. Complications include: (a) suitable match, (b) legalities, (c) family not wanting to donate organs, and (d) time. With live organ donation a suitable match should be easier to obtain and time should be able to be controlled to some extent. With live organ donor transplantation, ”…the organ-damaging hemodynamic instabiility associated with the death of the donor is avoided, and the coordinated scheduling of operations in the donor and recipient holds ex vivo organ ischemia to a minimum” (Singer, P. A., Siegler, M., Whitington, P. F., Lantos, J. D.,

Emond, J. C., Thistlethwaite, J. R., & Broelsch, C. E., 1989, p. 620). Prior to receiving a donor organ, recipients may be experiencing a variety of signs and symptoms related to their disease process. These can include: (a) jaundice, (b) ascites, (c) GI bleed, (d) ECG changes, (e) malaise, (f) encephalopathy, (g) body image changes, and (h) fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Disease process is specific to the individual. Once the need for transplant has been established the search for a donor can begin.

There are a multitude of steps involved in the procedure. Some of these include: (a) evaluation to determine the need for transplant, (b) search for a suitable donor who is willing to donate, (c) evaluation of the donor, (d) obtaining the proper consent, and (e) mapping out the plan of care for both donor and recipient. Due to legalities and ethical conflicts, the acceptance of live organ donor transplantation is questionable. Those families and volunteer participants must meet several criteria in order to be considered for a live liver donor. Once someone decides that they want to be a donor they must first under go a medical and psychiatric evaluation.

The medical portion of the evaluation includes: (a) compatible blood type, (b) no history of liver disease, (c) normal results of liver function tests, (d) appropriate size of left liver lobe on CT scan, (e) no vascular anomalies on hepatic arteriography, and (f) low operative risk. The psychiatric portion of the evaluation must find that the donor is at low risk for psychological decompensation and involves obtaining informed consent.

Donor’s consent can be influenced by three areas, these include: (a) internal pressure, (b) external pressure, and (c) urgency of medical situation. All institutions have their own individual protocols for obtaining consent but many do require a wait period between consent and procedure. This provides the donor with time to change their decision, and after all these areas have been addressed the donor and recipient are prepared for surgery.

The procedure involves donation of the left lateral lobe, which is the safest anatomical resection (Jones, J., Payne, W. D., & Matas, A. J., 1993). The surgeries are performed simultaneously and may take several hours depending upon the experience of the transplant team and the possibility of complications. Common complications include: (a) arterial thrombosis, (b) bile leaks, (c) infection, and (d) stricture at the biliary enteric anastomosis

(Wise, B. V., 1994).