For Health Professionals

Liver transplant information for kids

You're at the right place to learn about liver transplants for children. This page is especially for children. It talks about the "before" and "after" of liver transplant and tells you what you need to know about this operation that could change, and even save, your life.

What is a liver transplant?

Your liver is below your right lung, inside the bones that protect your chest. You cannot live without your liver. It is like a living "machine" in your body. It does hundreds of things for you, some of which are:

  • making things in your blood that help you stop bleeding if you get hurt
  • making other things that help you digest your food and use the fat and vitamins in the food you eat.
  • cleaning your blood by getting rid of things that could hurt you or make you sick.

Sometimes, children are born with liver problems. Other times, a child's liver can be hurt by sickness, accidents, poisons, or cancer. If your liver gets sick, you feel sick, and if your liver quits working, you cannot live.

At Loma Linda hospital, we want to do something before a liver quits working. First, we try to make it better with medicine or other care. If that does not work, we may need to do a transplant. A transplant is an operation where we take out a sick or dying liver and put a healthy liver in its place. With the right kind of care, this new liver will do its job for the rest of your life!

Say "hello" to the team!

It takes lots of people to give you a new liver. Some of these people are:

The hepatologists (special liver doctors). These doctors take care of children who are sick because of liver problems. They find out what is wrong with your liver, help you stay as well as you can, and think about if you are going to need a new one.

The surgeons. These doctors are the ones who do the operation that takes out your sick liver and puts in a healthy one. They have done lots of these kinds of operations and are very good at them!

The transplant coordinator. This person is a nurse who makes sure that all the things that need to be done get done at the right time. He or she is the one who will teach you what you need to know and do. You will get to know this teammate the best.

The social worker. This person is a special helper for you and your family. He or she works with you to solve lots of different kinds of problems that come up when you need a transplant.

The financial coordinator. This person helps you and your family make sure that enough money will be there to pay for the hospital, the doctors, and the medicines you will need.

There are other people on the team, too, so that you will have all the help you need to do as well as possible.

Steps to a liver transplant

Some children get very sick with liver disease all of a sudden. They come to the hospital and the doctors decide that the only thing that will make them better is a liver transplant. If this is what happens to you, you might get a new liver in just a few days.

Most children who have a sick liver start out feeling okay and then get a little sicker over a long time, like months or even years. If this is what happens to you, you will keep living at home and just come to see the doctor every once in a while.

At a certain time, all the team members will get together and decide that you are going to need a new liver. They will put your name on a list that goes all over the country! Your place on the list is figured out by how sick you are. The sicker you are, the higher on the list you go.

Getting your new liver

When you are at the top of the list for a liver that is just right for you, you will be called and told to come to the hospital. Or, if you are really sick, you will probably be in the hospital already. Someone from your family can come and stay with you. There, the doctors will help you go to sleep. While you are sleeping, they will do the operation that takes out your sick liver and puts in a new one.

You will stay in the hospital for a while after your transplant. Someone from your family will be able to stay with you all the time. While you are in the hospital, the doctors and nurses will teach you and your family all about how to take care of your new liver.

Taking care of your new liver

Your new liver will need lots of care, especially at first. You will take some medicine to keep your liver strong and other medicine to keep germs from making you sick. It will be very important for you to take your medicine every day at all the right times.

After you go home from the hospital, you will not be able to go to school right away. A special teacher will come right to your house! You will also have to be careful when you play so that your liver does not get hit or hurt.

You will come and see the doctor a lot after your transplant, too. The doctor will make sure everything is working okay. He or she will also make sure your medicine is doing what it should and may make changes so it will work better.

Living with your liver

If you take good care of your new liver, it will take good care of you. It will do all those hundreds of things that your body needs it to do. Take your medicine every day. Eat the right kind of food. Keep your liver from getting hit. And you can grow up strong and healthy!