Patient Guide to Liver Transplant Surgery

A liver transplant gives many people with severe liver disease the chance to live a full life they could only dream of before. But the road to liver transplant can feel overwhelming. At Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Surgery Institute, we streamline the transplant process in several ways for you.

Our team-based care saves you time and energy so you can focus on your health. We also teach you about every part of transplant care, helping you make the most of life after liver transplantation.

Your Liver Transplant Care Team

Our multidisciplinary care means professionals with different backgrounds and specialties participate in your care. Everyone on our team has received specialized transplant training. They work together to ensure your physical, mental, and emotional health before and after liver transplant surgery.

At AHN, your care team includes:

  • Medical specialists, such as a hepatologist (liver specialist), critical care specialist, and surgeon
  • Social worker
  • Nurse coordinator
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical therapist
  • Dietitian
  • Financial coordinator

Before Liver Transplant: What to Expect

We’re committed to making the benefits of liver transplant a reality for as many people as possible. That means we consider transplantation for people with complex medical circumstances when other centers won’t. Our surgeons’ medical expertise, along with thorough health evaluations, help us deliver excellent results to even the sickest patients.

Here’s what happens before liver transplant surgery:

 Step 1: Physician referral

Your primary care physician or gastroenterologist (digestive and liver disease specialist) will call our Surgery Institute if they believe you may benefit from a liver transplant. You may also call us yourself if you’d like to learn more about whether liver transplant could be right for you. 

Step 2: Liver transplant evaluation 

Next, a member of our transplant team will call you to schedule certain tests. This testing will help us understand your health and makes your first appointment with us more productive.

At your initial evaluation, you will meet with several members of our transplant team. In our transplant clinic, located at Allegheny General Hospital, our specialists work together in one place to save you time and energy.

They’ll discuss your test results with you and talk in great detail about the transplant process. They will also explain how a liver transplant could affect your life. Our team is available to answer your questions, at this meeting and any time after.

Step 3: Waiting for a donor liver

Our liver transplant team meets together to discuss every patient’s case in great detail. If we think you will make a great candidate for liver transplantation, we will put you on a national liver transplant wait list. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) calls us when a donor organ becomes available for you.

How long you wait for a suitable donor organ depends on several factors, such as the severity of your condition. Your position on the list (called your MELD score) gets updated as you undergo regular blood work and testing. A higher MELD score means your health is declining —but it also increases your chances of getting a donor organ.

This waiting period can be stressful for patients and their families. You can call our team anytime if you have questions or concerns about the process.

Liver transplant surgery

If a donor organ becomes available, our transplant coordinator will call you right away. We ask all patients on the liver waiting list to keep a cell phone nearby at all times. You will need to come in for surgery immediately.

All liver transplant procedures take place on a dedicated transplant floor at Allegheny General. Transplant specialists will care for you during your entire hospital stay. A liver transplant procedure may take 4 to 8 hours to complete. 

After liver transplant

After liver transplant surgery, patients stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days so we can watch your health closely. Once we’re confident that your condition has improved, we will move you to a room where you can continue to recover.

You can expect to stay in the hospital for 10 to 14 days after your surgery. In the days and weeks that follow, we track your health closely. 

Your liver transplant recovery

Life after liver transplant will be different in expected and unexpected ways. You’ll have more energy to experience life in a way that wasn’t possible before. But first your body will need to fully recover from surgery.

Many people feel different levels of tiredness and pain right after surgery. This is normal and will lessen with time. Some spend time in a physical rehabilitation unit before going home. Physical therapy can help shorten the recovery process.

You will need to take important medications starting right after your surgery — and for the rest of your life. These medications are called antirejection immunosuppressants. They help your body get used to your new donor liver.

At AHN, we offer patients advanced, steroid-free medications. They help you avoid some of the negative side effects other medications may cause.

Our lifelong follow-up care

While you’ll see us less often over time, we’ll play some role in your care for the rest of your life. We’ll make sure you have the tools and information you need to make the most of life after transplant.

We’ll also teach you the common signs that may point to infection or organ injection. The sooner you alert us to potential problems, the faster we can provide treatment.

Your commitment to your care is important to your transplant success. Our team will tell you exactly which medications you need to take (and why). In the beginning of your recovery, you will need to go to a local hospital or lab testing clinic for regular blood work. These test results help our team track your health and liver function.

In time, your primary care physician or hepatologist will take over the more routine parts of your care. But we’ll remain in contact with your local physician to monitor your health. We’ll also evaluate you at yearly appointments for the rest of your life.

Contact Us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN liver transplant services.