Living Donor Liver Transplant

The liver’s unique ability to heal itself, along with recent technological advances, now makes donations from living donors possible.

The lifesaving act of donating part of your liver is possible because the liver — unlike other organs — can regenerate and grow back to normal size.

UC San Diego Health is the region's leader in transplantation. Our Center for Transplantation is the only facility in San Diego that does living donor liver transplants. Our liver transplant program's highest priority is to protect your health, safety, privacy and best interests.

Benefits of Living Donor Liver Transplants

Livers from living donors have several advantages:

  • Surgery can be scheduled at a time that is convenient for both the recipient and the donor.
  • Both the donor’s and recipient’s livers will start to regenerate immediately after transplant. It can grow to 80% of its original size six weeks after donation and continues growing for up to a year.
  • Patients with liver failure can get transplants earlier when they’re not as sick and have a better chance of a successful liver transplant. Living donor liver transplantation also decreases the risk of patients dying while on the waitlist for an organ from a deceased donor.

Who Can Become a Living Donor?

Donating a part of your liver is voluntary. You can stop or delay the process of liver donation at any time.

Living donors can be relatives, close friends or acquaintances. They should:

  • Be between 18–55 years old
  • Have normal liver function
  • Complete a medical, surgical and psychosocial evaluation
  • Understand the risks and benefits of donation before giving consent

Donor Evaluation Process

The first step is to complete our confidential health questionnaire, which we will review. If you are a possible donor, we'll call you to schedule a health screening call with the living donor coordinator.

During your screening call, we will determine if you can move forward with the donor evaluation process, which consists of: 

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging and diagnostic tests
  • Evaluation appointment with our living donor team

These tests will help give us a better picture of your overall health.

You'll also need to complete routine health screenings with your primary care doctor, depending on your age and gender. These may include a Pap test (Pap smear), mammogram or colonoscopy. Based on the results, you may also have to consult specialists.

Start the Process of Becoming a Living Liver Donor

Please provide your health history to help us determine if you are a possible candidate for living liver donation:

1. Complete a confidential health questionnaire online.

2. Or call 858-657-7728, and we'll help you complete the questionnaire.


Liver Donation Surgery

Two transplant teams skillfully coordinate living donor liver surgeries at UC San Diego Health. The donor and recipient are in adjacent operating rooms. One team removes a portion of the donor’s liver, usually the right half, through an incision in the stomach. The second surgical team then immediately transplants the liver into the recipient.

Your living donor surgery can take about five to eight hours. Expect to stay in the hospital for five days after the surgery. Our team will coordinate your discharge and provide the support needed for recovery.

Be prepared to take off six to eight weeks from work and avoid strenuous activity. You will need to avoid driving for 14 days after surgery and lifting more than 10 pounds for at least six weeks.

Liver Donation Costs

Your recipient's insurance usually pays for your tests, evaluation, surgery, hospitalization and follow-up visits. The costs of your travel, living expenses and time off work are often not covered. 

If you donate a portion of your liver at UC San Diego Health, we can provide Donor Shield benefits. This program can help with wage loss and travel and lodging reimbursements. You can also apply to the National Living Donor Assistance Center for help with lost wages and travel expenses.

Living Donor Transplant Team

Our living donor liver transplant team has specialists in all areas of patient care, including surgeons, hepatologists (liver doctors), infectious disease specialists, nurses, pharmacists, living donor advocates, social workers, dietitians, program coordinators, and physical and occupational therapists.

Cross-Continental Living Donation

After becoming severely ill, a father of four received a liver transplant from his brother through UC San Diego Health’s living donor program.

Read Their Story


Support Our Patient Assistance Fund

Donations are vital in helping liver transplant recipients and living liver donors as well as their families. Your financial gift is deeply appreciated!

Give now to the abdominal transplant support fund or the Brian Underwood endowed fund.