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What is living liver donation?

A living liver donor is a person who gives part of their liver to someone with liver failure who needs a transplant (the recipient). This could be a friend or family member, or someone they do not already know.

A liver transplant operation is life-saving surgery for patients with end stage liver disease. It is also performed for some patients with primary liver cancer and children with metabolic diseases (affecting the chemical processes within the body).

Volunteering to offer part of your liver is a wonderful thing to do, but it is also an important decision and there are many things for you to consider. We hope this information will answer some of the questions that you may have.

Did you know?

Living donor liver transplantation has been successfully performed in the UK since 1995.

Liver transplant recipient Susan Lee Clark with her son Harry
Liver transplant recipient Susan Lee Clark with her son Harry

Why do we need more living liver donors?

Liver recipient Naomi Smith at the 2008 Transplant Games
Liver recipient Naomi Smith at the 2008 Transplant Games

Approximately 900 people in the UK undergo liver transplantation every year.

At the end of each year around 600 people with liver disease on the UK transplant list are not transplanted and are still waiting for a liver – and the numbers are growing.

Fifteen to twenty percent of patients on the transplant list die or are removed each year whilst waiting for an organ.

Unfortunately there are simply not enough livers donated by people who have died for these patients.

The average waiting time for a liver transplant from someone who has died (a deceased donor) is approximately 137 days (4.5 months). For some people with common blood groups such as O the wait can be 244 days (8 months) as there are more blood group O recipients waiting for a transplant. For patients with end stage liver disease, this is a long time.

Could you volunteer to be a living liver donor?

Healthy people who wish to help a loved one or a stranger with liver disease may volunteer to give part of their liver. Volunteer is the key word – this must be something that you choose to do and feel comfortable doing. Anyone volunteering will be asked to undertake a series of tests so that the transplant team can be absolutely sure that you are suitable to donate. 

Your health and safety is of primary concern and it is important to be aware from the start that, even if you want to be a donor, not everyone is suitable and you may be unable to donate. It is also important to remember that even if you do volunteer, you can change your mind at any point in the process – right up to the time of surgery.

Who can donate?

Most often living liver donors are a close relative of the recipient, such as a family member, partner or good friend. However, people who do not know anyone with liver disease, but who wish to donate, can also provide part of their liver for someone on the transplant list. These people are known as non-directed altruistic donors.

To find out more about non-directed altruistic liver donation, you can contact the living donor liver coordinators at St. James Hospital, Leeds or King’s College Hospital, London where people have already donated in this way, or contact your closest liver transplant centre for further advice. 

For all other enquiries, it is best to contact the transplant centre where your intended recipient is being assessed for transplantation.

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If you would prefer to download information to read offline, please select one of our fact sheets below.