Healthy Aging

healthy aging

The Ultimate Gift – Life from Liver Transplantation

The holidays are quickly approaching as I write this column. A gift that some people really need is a solid organ transplant. The focus of this column is the liver.

The Liver

The liver is a rather large internal organ that has many important functions. When the liver is healthy, it acts as an “internal factory,” turning out sugar, some cholesterol, bile for digestion, and many important protein building blocks. Another very important function is that it helps form clots to prevent excessive bleeding when cut. The liver’s functions are relatively silent and often go unnoticed. Unlike the kidney’s functions, which can be monitored by observing urine production, the liver’s functions cannot be easily monitored.

Liver Diseases

Several diseases can affect the liver. Some of these problems include cancer, hepatitis and viral diseases. Drug-induced damage can result from alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and environmental chemicals. A chronic problem of the liver is cirrhosis, in which the liver tissue becomes fibrotic or scarred. In all liver disease, the severity can be fairly easily detected by a battery of liver function tests that demonstrate a failure of the liver to do all things required to keep the whole body healthy. These tests can be performed by taking a blood sample.


When someone has severe liver disease, no matter what the cause, transplantation is likely the best possible treatment. The first liver transplant was performed in 1963, but transplantation did not become widely used until the 1980s. This surgery is only performed in approximately 100 hospitals around the United States. The only hospital performing liver transplantation in South Carolina is the Medical University of South Carolina.

Before a liver transplant can be performed, a great deal of screening and analysis is required. Factors that can prevent a person from having a liver transplant include alcohol abuse and life-threatening diseases such as severe heart failure or cancer of another organ.

Once a patient is approved for liver transplant, the really hard part begins — the wait for a perfect donor match. The match process can take months or longer because relatively few cadaveric (total livers from brain dead donors) are available. A more recent and increasingly popular transplant option is living partial liver donation. The transplant recipient receives approximately half of a healthy patient’s liver. Both patients then undergo treatment and observation for six to eight months while the new, normal liver “grows.”

In the medical field, this operation is called “big.” The procedure takes five or more hours and can be accompanied by considerable loss of blood. However, the results are very good with more than 50 percent survival for 15 years. Check USTransplant’s website for a complete listing of national results.

Liver transplant is truly is a life-saving procedure that greatly improves length of life, as well as quality of life. An organ is the ultimate gift that a person on a transplant wait list could receive during this time of year — or any time of year.

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Liver Transplantation at the Medical University of South Carolina

For adult and pediatric patients in need of a liver transplant, the MUSC Transplant Center has one of the country’s top programs. Because we have one of the shortest waiting periods, our patients typically get their livers in time. Our experience in transplanting hundreds of livers each year contributes to:

  • Superior outcomes and some of the nation’s lowest mortality rates
  • A length of stay in the hospital that is among the nation’s shortest
  • Extremely low re-admission rates

More information about the MUSC Liver Transplant Center


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