Liver Transplantation Surgery and Recovery

Liver transplantation is much more than the initial surgery – and it requires a lifelong commitment. During the transplant operation, your surgical team puts you under general anesthesia before removing both your gallbladder and liver through an incision in your abdomen. They then place the healthy, thoroughly evaluated donor liver into your body, connecting it to the appropriate ducts, arteries, and veins. The transplant surgery usually takes about four to six hours.

After surgery, you will be taken to the surgical intensive care unit and closely monitored for one to two days. Once you are stabilized, you will be moved to the transplant floor.

Your hospital stay will last seven to 14 days, depending on how quickly you recover. During this time, you'll learn about medications, future outpatient visits, and general health care issues. You will also undergo physical therapy and learn how to take care of your new liver.

The recovery period continues after you leave the hospital, and the transplant team will follow your progress closely throughout your recovery. The first two to three months post-transplant are the most critical. If you live more than an hour away, you should plan to stay near the hospital for one to two weeks after discharge. A family member or friend should stay with you since you may not be strong enough to stay alone and may need help with certain activities.

You will have some routine restrictions on daily activities for the first four to six weeks. You’ll need to be monitored on a long-term basis and must agree to be available for exams, lab tests, and scans of the abdomen to see how the transplanted liver is doing. The transplant team will also see you regularly for three to six months post-transplant, and you will be followed in the transplant clinic for life.

For the rest of their lives, liver recipients must take anti-rejection medications; have frequent medical checkups; exercise regularly; eat a healthy diet; and abstain from alcohol, smoking, and street drugs.