How living donor liver transplant works

[MUSIC PLAYING] In the United States, there are more than 14,000 people currently on the liver transplant waiting list. Living donor liver transplantation is an alternative solution for the long wait times for a deceased donor since a transplanted segment of the liver is able to regenerate or grow back within a few months. With one of the most experienced liver transplant programs in the Midwest, the University of Chicago Medicine offers patients a leading-edge approach to transplantation through living donor liver transplantation.

The ideal living donor is an individual between the age of 18 to 55 who isn't obese and hasn't had any major abdominal surgery. The donor's blood type must also be compatible with the recipient but not necessarily matching. Both donors and recipients will undergo blood work, a CT scan of the liver, which determines the shape of the liver and the blood vessel anatomy, and an EKG to rule out any potential heart conditions.

Once a donor has been deemed acceptable, the donor and recipient will meet with hepatologists and transplant surgeons to discuss the surgery. Patients who receive a liver from a living donor often have better short-term and long-term survival rates. Surgeries on the donor and recipient take place in separate but nearby operating rooms so the liver segment can be easily transported to the recipient.


The medical and surgical teams are in constant communication during the surgeries. On the day of transplantation, surgeons will make an incision in the middle upper part of the donor's abdomen and will carefully isolate veins and divide the liver. The segment of the liver taken depends on the size of the donor's liver and the needs of the recipient. But typically, about 60% to 70% is taken. In a separate operating room, surgeons will make an incision under the rib cage and remove the recipient's entire diseased liver.

Once the recipient is ready to receive the liver, the donated portion is brought to the operating room and placed in the recipient's body. Blood vessels and bile ducts are then connected to their appropriate counterparts. The transplanted liver in the recipient and the portion left behind in the donor will regrow reaching normal liver volume and function within approximately six weeks.

Donors will typically stay in the hospital five to six days following surgery and may have to wait six to eight weeks to return to a job that requires physical activity. Recipients may be able to return home after one week in the hospital and will continue to recover for one to three months after surgery. Recipients will continue to work with our hospital team and will have annual follow-ups with their hepatologist.

UChicago Medicine also offers transplant patients a team of support staff, including social workers, pre and post-transplant coordinators, dietitians, and pharmacists. Our care team members will support you each step of the way. To learn more or to make an appointment for a liver transplant evaluation, visit, or call 773-702-4500.


UChicago Medicine transplant surgeon John LaMattina, MD, explains adult living donor liver transplantation in this animated video. Living donor liver transplantation is an option for patients with end-stage liver disease or liver failure.

A liver from a living donor is an alternative to the long organ waiting list and a faster path to transplant. The living donor's liver and the recipient's newly transplanted piece of liver will fully regrow and function normally within a few months of transplant.

LaMattina also reviews the requirements for a living liver donor and explains the processes for both surgeries.

John LaMattina, MD

John LaMattina, MD

Dr. LaMattina is a skilled transplant surgeon with a particular interest in both living donor liver and living donor kidney transplantation.

See Dr. LaMattina's physician profile