Medical Specialties

About Pediatric Liver Transplants


About the Liver

Liver Transplants at Phoenix Children's Hospital

The liver is your body’s filter and it’s the largest internal organ in the body. The liver is essential for survival and regulates most chemical levels in the blood (such as glucose), produces important proteins (such as clotting factors) and excretes a product called bile, which helps absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. All of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down the nutrients and most foreign substances (such as medications) in the blood into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body. More than 500 vital functions have been identified as being dependent on the liver.

About Liver Transplants

A liver transplant is a surgical procedure performed to replace a diseased liver with a healthy liver from another person. The liver may come from a deceased organ donor or from a living donor. Family members or individuals who are unrelated, but make a good match, may be able to donate a portion of their liver. This type of transplant is called a living donor transplant. For people who donate a portion of their liver, the remaining half is capable of regenerating and resuming normal function.

An entire liver may be transplanted, or just a section. Because the liver is the only organ in the body able to regenerate, a transplanted portion of a liver can rebuild to normal capacity within weeks.

When a liver transplant is needed

A liver transplant is recommended for children who have serious liver dysfunction and will not be able to live without having their liver replaced.

The most common liver disease in children for which transplants are done is biliary atresia. Liver dysfunction could be acute or chronic. Causes for liver dysfunction could be infections, genetic, metabolic, immunologic, tumors, toxins or for unknown reasons (idiopathic).

There are many more conditions that may require a liver transplant.

Children who receive liver transplants tend to do very well

Liver transplants are performed on the sickest children with liver disease.

Most kids who receive liver transplants go on to lead productive lives. Unlike adults, most liver diseases requiring transplantation in children are congenital, meaning they were born with a defect and will not recur in the transplanted liver. In these cases, the liver transplant is curative, although stringent lifetime aftercare is required.

Types of Liver Failure

There are many specific types of liver disease in children that may require a transplant. They are grouped into two categories:

  1. Acute liver failure (ALF), or fulminant liver failure, occurs when many of the cells in the liver die or become very damaged in a short period of time, causing the liver to stop working normally.
  2. Chronic liver failure, the liver is scarred and causes problems with blood flow, which can lead to gorged veins (varices) at risk of bleeding, enlarged spleen leading to low blood counts and fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites). Chronic liver dysfunction increases the risk of bleeding, malnutrition and other conditions.

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