My father was diagnosed with a diseased liver when I was in elementary school. My family and I knew that a liver transplant was in his future, and the idea at first was a calming one. We thought that a transplant would fix everything and that he would be back to normal after a few weeks in the hospital. My relatives told my parents that they would plan their vacations around his transplant so that they can all pitch in with his recovery. This was before we learned what really went into a liver transplant.
A liver transplant is a wonderful thing when it goes perfectly. Considering that it only takes three weeks of hospitalization to have a completely different person’s organ situated in your body, it is one very quick operation. Also, as my father’s doctor said, the liver is the only thing that you can put junk into and get gold out of. This precious organ is so essential that to get a second liver is remarkable thing in itself. Another wonderful thing about a liver transplant is that if you are lucky you get get a living organ donation. What this means is, you have a family member or donor give you roughly 60% of their liver. Because the liver is the fast growing organ, both livers normally grow to full size in a matter of weeks. This is extraordinary, you would never donate half a lung or half a heart like you can donate half a liver. Liver transplants are also good because in many cases this transplant could add many years to a person’s life.
The downside to a liver transplant is the odds against such a wonderful gift. In order to receive a liver, a patient has to be sick enough that the possibility of death from liver failure is likely to happen. At the same time, the patient has to be strong enough that they are likely to survive the transplant surgery and subsequent treatments. These restrictions and a small list of donors makes it so that 1,500 people died while waiting for a liver transplant last year. Stigma about organ donation (that doctors won’t work as hard to save a donor) means that many people are not willing to declare their wishes to be an organ donor. Another fact is that while partial liver transplants from living donors is possible, some patients (like my father) have such aggressive diseases that only a full liver from someone who has pasted away will serve the correct purpose. In addition, patients with liver disease are usually very weak during the time that they are going in for surgery. This means that they have a high likelihood of dieing on the table during surgery. Liver transplant patients must also live on immunosuppressants from the time they receive their transplant onward. This means that each infection, virus, bacteria, or parasite is one more worry that could lead to premature death.
A new liver is a irreplaceable gift. Life and more years of happiness mean that a liver transplant is a wonderful gift. While the cons of a transplant are numerous, there is no price too great or no risk too dangerous to give someone you love a few more years with their families.