Digestive Diseases: Liver Transplantation

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What happens when they find a liver transplant match?

When a liver has been identified for you, a transplant coordinator will contact you by telephone or by pager. Make sure that you do not eat or drink anything once you have been called to the hospital. The transplant coordinator will notify you of any additional instructions. When you arrive at the hospital, additional blood tests, an electrocardiogram, and a chest X-ray will generally be taken before the operation. You also may meet with the anesthesiologist and a surgical resident. If the donor liver is found to be acceptable you will proceed with the transplant. If not, you will be sent home to continue waiting.

What happens during the liver transplant operation?

Liver transplants usually take from six hours to 12 hours. During the operation, surgeons will remove your liver and will replace it with the donor liver. Because a transplant operation is a major procedure, surgeons will need to place several tubes in your body. These tubes are necessary to help your body carry out certain functions during the operation and for a few days afterward.

Tube placement

  • A tube will be placed through your mouth into your windpipe (trachea) to help you breathe during the liver transplant operation and for the first day or two following the operation. The tube is attached to a ventilator that will expand your lungs mechanically.
  • A nasogastric (N/G) tube will be inserted through your nose into your stomach. The N/G tube will drain secretions from your stomach and it will remain in place for a few days until your bowel function returns to normal.
  • A tube called a catheter will be placed in your bladder to drain urine. This will be removed a few days after the operation.
  • Three tubes may be placed in your abdomen to drain blood and fluid from around the liver. These will remain in place for about one week.
  • In some cases, the surgeon will place a special tube, called a T-tube, in your bile duct. The T-tube will drain bile into a small pouch outside of your body so it can be measured several times daily. Only certain transplant patients receive a T-tube, which remains in place for four to five months. The tube causes no discomfort and does not interfere with daily activities.
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