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Things You Should Know Before a Liver Transplant

The Basics

Simply defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Liver transplant is a treatment option for some people with liver cancer and for people with liver failure whose condition can’t be controlled with other treatments.”

Liver transplant surgery comes at a significant risk to your overall health. One of the principal concerns is that your body will not accept the new liver. However, your care team will do as much as humanly possible to match you with a compatible liver and provide you with anti-rejection medications after the procedure. Though there are numerous risks, removing and replacing a diseased liver could aid in restoring the essential functions of the organ, such as processing medicine and nutrients, as well as removing bacteria from your bloodstream.

The Process

The first step in getting a liver transplant is speaking with your doctor. They can advise you whether a liver transplant is the correct next step in your care plan. Next, your doctor will refer you to a transplant team/center. This is where you will be evaluated and approved for your transplant. Then, depending on how urgently you need the new liver, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. Typically, you will receive the new liver from a deceased individual, but a living liver donor is also an option. Unfortunately, there are more people needing new livers than there are donors, which is why the process can feel long and unwieldy. However, you can certainly do things to keep yourself busy in the meantime, primarily maintaining your health.

How to Prepare

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is paramount to preparing for a liver transplant, as it might help speed up your recovery. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to “take your medications as prescribed”, “follow your diet and exercise guidelines”, keep all appointments with your health care team”, and stay involved in healthy activities, including relaxing and spending time with family and friends.”

Not only is it important to maintain your physical health but your mental health. Depression and anxiety are common when undergoing such a big, life-altering procedure. Staying connected with other people is key to staying positive. Your doctor can help you find a local support group. Getting a liver transplant can be frightening, and though we’d like to think that we are discussing them in an accessible, humanistic way, going through this process can be isolating, dehumanizing even. This is why it is so important to connect with other people who will experience or have experienced getting a liver transplant. Getting support doesn’t just mean joining a support group (though that is an excellent idea). Reading personal narratives surrounding the experience may help you feel less anxious and less alone during your transplant journey as well. One work we found incredibly helpful and humanistic was LIVEr My Journey of Transplant Survival, by John Hoffman, who received two separate liver transplants within his lifetime. Throughout the course of the book, Mr. Hoffman discusses his journey, highlighting both mental and physical health struggles surrounding the surgerical procedures he underwent while providing a realistic and human-focused guide to navigating the process for those who may be in a similar situation.

We hope this provides you with a semblance of a structure for what is to come during your liver transplant. Ensure you are in close contact with your doctor and transplant care team for the most accurate, case-specific advice for your liver transplant.

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