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Liver Transplant: Before Your Surgery

Abdominal organs

What is a liver transplant?

A liver transplant is surgery to give you a healthy liver from another person. You may get a whole new liver or just part of a new liver. The new liver may come from someone you know. Or it may come from a stranger or a person who has died.

To do the surgery, the doctor makes a cut in your upper belly. This cut is called an incision. Then the doctor removes your liver. Next he or she connects the blood vessels of the new liver to your blood vessels. He or she also connects the bile duct of the new liver to your bile duct. The doctor finishes the surgery by closing your incision with stitches or staples. These are removed about 1 to 3 weeks after surgery. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.

After surgery, the new liver will start to do the work that your old liver could not.

You will probably spend 10 to 20 days in the hospital. Most people are able to go back to work in about 2 to 3 months. But it depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • You may get an epidural catheter. This is a small tube that puts pain medicine directly into the area in your back around your spinal cord. It is used to prevent pain after surgery.
  • The surgery will take at least 3 to 5 hours.
  • After surgery, you will have a tube coming out of your belly. It will drain fluids for a few days.
  • You may have a thin, plastic tube in your nose that goes down the back of your throat into your stomach. It will drain stomach juices until your bowels start to work again. It is usually removed a few days after surgery.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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