Liver Transplant Program
In 1998 Aurora St. Luke's received liver transplant approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and physicians performed their first liver transplant operation that year.
Upon referral to the Liver Transplant Program at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, a transplant coordinator will contact you to discuss the liver transplant process. During the referral phase of a liver transplant, the Transplant Clinic team will perform several diagnostic tests to help determine if a liver transplant is the right treatment for you. The testing insures that, other then your liver, you are in good physical health and can undergo the transplant.
The patient and family also participate in interviews and consultations with other members of the transplant team to discuss all aspects of transplantation and how it will affect their life.
After obtaining the needed information, a multi-disciplinary selection committee meets to decide if transplantation is the best option. If the committee determines that the candidate is qualified, the patient is registered with the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), the national computerized list that matches transplant recipients with available organs.
How long the patient waits for a liver transplant is based on various medical factors such as blood type, body size, clinical status, and length of time on the list.
Pre-transplant candidates are treated by the transplant team to keep them as healthy as possible while awaiting transplantation. They are regularly scheduled for visits with their transplant physician and transplant nurse coordinator to monitor their health status and to receive the emotional and practical support that often is needed during the difficult waiting period.
The wait for a matching liver can vary from a few days to a few years. As patients move to the top of the UNOS list, they are provided with an electronic pager and specific instructions to prepare for their surgery.
The call to come to the medical center for a liver transplant can come at any time. As Aurora St. Luke's Procurement Team facilitates the recovery of the liver from the donor hospital, the transplant patient is prepared for surgery at St. Luke's.
Following surgery, time spent in one of St. Luke's specialized Intensive Care Units varies for each patient. The total length of hospitalization generally depends on how sick patients were before their transplant and how well they are recovering after the surgery.
During the hospital stay, the transplant team monitors the function of the new liver and closely watches for signs of infection, rejection and medication side effects. Patients also are educated about their immunosuppressive medication program, which begins with the transplant, and what to look for and expect when they return home.
Physical therapy usually begins in the hospital and continues at home with an individualized exercise program planned by a rehabilitation specialist.
Post-discharge and Follow-up Care
Immunosuppressive medications must be taken daily for the rest of the patient's life to prevent rejection of the liver. These are powerful drugs with many possible side effects. Patients begin taking immunosuppressives in the hospital just before surgery, and their course of therapy is fine-tuned in the weeks and months to follow.
During the transplant follow-up phase, which continues for life, patients visit the Transplant Clinic regularly to keep them free of infection and rejection. Visits are more frequent during the first year of the transplant and gradually decrease in subsequent years. Follow-up care may include blood tests, radiological studies and biopsies to check for signs of potential problems.
Visits with the transplant physician and transplant nurse coordinator involve physical exams, medication management, patient education and support. To avoid unnecessary travel, patients who live in another community can arrange to have their blood and lab work done through their primary care physician and sent to St. Luke's.
Patients also need to continue to see their primary care doctor for medical concerns that are unrelated to the transplant.
Since the first organ transplant at St. Luke's more than 30 years ago, doctors have gained a better understanding of the body's immune system and how to prevent organ rejection. Significant advancements in immunosuppressive therapy and transplant technology have resulted in dramatic improvements not only in the length of life following transplant but also in the quality of life.
Following recovery from liver transplant surgery, most patients regain their health and strength and are able to resume everyday activities, including work and driving, within a few months.
Your transplant clinic physician and team will provide more detailed information on the safest time for you to regain normal activity.
To learn more, click here or call 414-646-2550.