Jefferson Health

Deceased Donor Liver Transplant

When a patient does not have a family member, loved one or other individual willing and able to donate a liver, a transplant from a deceased donor is the only option.

If you are considering a liver transplant, the surgeons at Jefferson have distinguished themselves in the field, having performed the first liver transplant in the Delaware Valley more than 25 years ago. To date, more than 650 patients have received liver transplants here, and we have the lowest mortality rate among patients on the recipient waiting list of centers served by the nonprofit Gift of Life Donor Program in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

What Does a Deceased Donor Liver Transplant Involve?

Deceased donor livers come from people who have died suddenly, usually from an accident or bleed into the brain. These individuals are usually between one and 70 years of age and have been relatively healthy before their death. These people have previously expressed to their families a willingness to donate their organs, or their families have made the decision to donate their organs so that someone else will have a chance to live a better life.

It isn't necessary to match the donor and recipient for age, sex or race. All donors are screened for hepatitis viruses and the HIV virus. What's more, all deceased donor organs are tested extensively to help ensure that they don't pose a health threat to the recipient. Also, many studies – such as ABO blood type and HLA matching – are performed to ensure that the organs are functioning properly.

As soon as a deceased donor is declared brain-dead, the liver is removed and placed in sterile fluid similar to fluid in body cells. It is then stored in the refrigerator. The harvested liver needs to be transplanted within 24 hours of recovery – which is why recipients are often called to the hospital in the middle of the night or at short notice.

Waiting List for Liver Transplant

Patients requiring such a transplant are put on the waiting list maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This national organization is responsible for fairly prioritizing recipients as organs become available for transplant. Priority is based on several factors, including:

  • MELD score
  • ABO blood type