Organ transplants are some of the hardest surgeries that doctors can do. They require many trained personnel, time, and complicated procedures. Liver transplants are among the most difficult organ transplants that can be done. There are also many risks involved with the surgery and patients must face all of them in order to come out with a new and working liver.
According to the American Liver Foundation patients that undergo a liver transplant have a 75% chance of survival after five years. In other words, one in four patients will die in five years due to their new liver. Even for organ transplants, that is a very low chance of survival.
Organ transplants tend to be very complex in nature. Since livers have so many functions they are among the hardest to transplant safely. The surgeon must first make a cut in the upper abdomen. Then they must remove the old liver by cutting it off from the blood vessels and bile ducts. The surgeon must then place the new liver into the patient’s body and connect it to the old blood vessels and bile ducts. Most operations usually take around 12 hours and since there is so much blood lost new blood must be continually added through a transfusion for the whole of the operation.
There are many problems with this surgery and the first one is the act of moving the donated liver to the patient that will receive it. The liver can only stay functioning for a short period of time outside of the body. That means that as soon as a liver is taken from a donor it must be immediately transported to the recipient. This requires that many people work together as one to set up an appointment for the patient and the donor, to remove the liver from the donor, ship the donor’s liver to the recipient, put the liver into the recipient, close them up, and manage the finances of the whole operation. All of this requiring much time, effort, and money.
There is yet an even larger risk that the new liver might be seen as an invader of the body by the immune system. This would mean that the body would start to break apart the new liver and attack it with cells that were made to fight off disease. The immune system would essentially be fighting off the thing trying to help it.
Unfortunately all transplant patients also become dependent on immunosuppressive drugs that keeps the immune system from attacking the liver. While these drug may be helpful they also keep patients from fighting off infections, so all patients have a harder time fighting off disease. The patients must also use these drugs for as long as they live, adding up to thousands of dollars over the patient’s life.
Luckily there are many new procedures that will make the chance of survival even higher. For instance, doctors can now take a small piece of a living donor’s liver and graft it onto the recipient’s liver. This can be done since the body only needs a small part of the a liver to carry out its normal functions, things like transporting the bile from the gallbladder to the intestines and detoxifying the blood. The procedure usually has to be done with donors and patients that have the same blood type and other major body factors. This means that a surgery is usually done with members of the same family.
Another great thing for liver transplant patients is a new liquid that organs can be placed in for transportation. It keeps the organ as fresh as if it were inside the body. This allows the organ to be moved much farther than it would have otherwise. Instead of it being moved just 30 minutes away it can be moved across the country. But even this is not perfect, even in this liquid organs can still break down and fail to work inside of the new body.
In the end, the benefits of liver transplantations far outweigh the risks for only one reason. Every patient will die if they do not receive a new liver.