Preparing for a Liver Transplant
There are three phases every patient goes through while preparing for a liver transplant. These include the evaluation, the waiting period and the transplant event. Your team will help guide you and your caregivers through each step of the process, answer any questions and provide support.
Before our doctors can decide if a liver transplant is the best treatment option, you will need to complete an evaluation. An evaluation is scheduled testing to see how advanced your liver disease is as well as to ensure that the rest of your body is healthy enough to manage a liver transplant.
Transplantation is a life-changing event. Along with testing, you will have interviews will all the members of the transplant team, including coordinators, transplant assistants, a social worker, a pharmacist, physical and occupational therapists, a dietitian, hepatologists, transplant surgeons, nephrologists, specialty radiologist and infectious disease doctors.
Transplantation requires that patients have access to many resources, including support from family, friends and caregivers. Liver transplant patients need to have a primary caregiver with them not only at their appointments during the evaluation phase, but throughout the transplant process as well.
Once you are determined to be a good candidate for a liver transplant, you will be placed on the liver transplant waiting list. Your MELD score or Model for End-Stage Liver Disease will determine how long you will wait for a new liver.
Your MELD score takes into account factors such as how sick you are and your chances of mortality during a three-month period. The higher the MELD score, the faster you may receive a liver transplant. MELD scores range from 6 (less ill) to 40 (gravely ill). Patients with a MELD score over 35 may be transplanted sooner than a patient with a MELD score below 35.
While you are waiting, you will be seen in our clinics every three months or more frequently if indicated by your clinical status. We have a liver transplant support group that you and your family may attend to help you manage the stress of waiting.
When a suitable donor becomes available, a donor transplant coordinator will call you. You will be expected to be at UF Health Shands Hospital as quickly and safely as you can get here for surgery.
You will be prepared for surgery in a nursing unit and then proceed to the operating room. A designated waiting room is available for your family. The transplant will take four to six hours, after which you will be admitted to the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) for several days. You will then be transferred to our transplant unit once you are stable. Typically, you will be in the hospital for two to three weeks.
As always, the transplant team will be there to assist you and your family at all times, including life after a liver transplant.
To learn more about liver transplant and our team, contact us at 352-646-3172.
Living with a Liver Transplant
Living with a liver transplant requires lifestyle changes and a commitment to your medical and healthcare needs. Our multidisciplinary team consists of coordinators, transplant assistants, a social worker, a pharmacist, physical and occupational therapists, a dietitian, hepatologists, transplant surgeons, nephrologists, specialty radiologist and infectious disease doctors. The transplant team works together to provide you and your caregivers with valuable care and education about living with a liver transplant.
After your liver transplant
Following a liver transplant, you will have frequently scheduled lab testing and clinic visits with your transplant team. Twice a week, you will need to have labs drawn, and our transplant team will see you in the clinic at least once a week. As you advance from your transplant surgery, your lab draws and clinic visits will become less frequent.
Each part of the multidisciplinary liver transplant team will work with you throughout your recovery and the rest of your life:
- The surgeons will monitor your incision to see how it is healing and review test results from ultrasounds and CT scans.
- The transplant coordinator, pharmacist and physician will monitor your medications and answer questions concerning lifestyle changes.
- The social worker will meet with you and your support team to assure that you are adjusting to the demands of living with a liver transplant.
- The nutritionists will be there to provide advice and counseling on dietary issues.
Your medication regimen
Being educated about your medication is part of living with a liver transplant. The transplant coordinator, pharmacist and physicians will help you and your caregivers understand and manage your new regimen.
Standard medications following a liver transplant include anti-rejection medications, antivirals and antibiotics. You will take the anti-rejection medications for the rest of your life. You might need to continue your regular medications for medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but your team will determine if this is necessary. We stress the need for preventive health measures such as annual flu vaccines, as well as vision, skin cancer and dental evaluations.
It’s important that liver transplant patients embrace a healthy lifestyle routine after transplant surgery, including diet and exercise. A healthy lifestyle helps patients get to and maintain a healthy weight, as well as helping to prevent or manage health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Patients should follow a healthy diet such as the American Heart Association diet. Following a diet that is low in salt and processed foods, but high in lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sources of calcium will promote a healthy lifestyle.
- Patients should avoid raw or undercooked meats and fish at all times. Patients should also avoid eating from buffets or salad bars due to an increased risk of infection after transplant. These food sources could potentially be contaminated.
- Patients will work with physical therapists during their recovery in the hospital after a transplant. The physical therapists will make recommendations concerning continued exercise once patients have been discharged to go home.
- Patients should check with the transplant team before beginning any new form of exercise.
- Patients will be able to do resistance training once they are stronger and have been cleared by the transplant team.
We offer a liver transplant support group that is facilitated by the social worker and other team members. This support group is for pre-transplant patients, post-transplant patients, families and caregivers. These groups address important concerns such as diet, medical management of liver disease, financial questions, transition into the transplant lifestyle, emotional support and coping mechanisms.
As patients are preparing for a liver transplant, recovering from surgery and living with a liver transplant, our professional transplant team provides support, education and compassionate care.
View our program outcomes from the SRTR website, as last reported in July 2022.
To learn more about liver transplant and our team and our team, contact us at 352-646-3172.