When parents get to know that their child needs a liver transplant, it may leave them feeling scared, angry, or confused. The reason behind it is simple. They do not have in-depth knowledge of why their child needs a new liver or where the new organ will come from. They keep thinking about all these months ahead, and the result will be obvious. It fills them with fear and apprehension.
However, today, the medical industry is booming with the latest surgical techniques and anti-rejection medicines. It has significantly increased the chances of a positive outcome for pediatric liver transplant surgery. Most kids who undergo these procedures continue to live normal healthy lives once they recover from surgery.
This article focuses on what parents can expect if their child needs a liver transplant.
What is a Pediatric Liver Transplant?
A liver transplant is the last-resort treatment approach for a child who has end-stage liver disease. In a pediatric liver transplant surgery, a surgeon replaces a diseased liver with a healthy liver from a donor. The new liver may be of a recently died organ donor, or a living person can also donate a part of his/her liver.
When a liver comes from the living donor, and a doctor performs surgery, it is called a living donor liver transplant surgery. This living donor may be a family member, or it may be a person who is not related to your child but has a matching blood type.
People who donate part of their liver can live healthy lives with the liver that is left. The only organ in the human body that can regenerate its lost or damaged tissue in the liver. The donor who has donated part of his/her liver will soon grow back to standard size after surgery. The part that a child receives will also expand to normal size in a few weeks.
Why is a Liver Transplant Recommended?
Usually, a doctor recommends liver transplant for children who have life-threatening liver dysfunction and will not be able to live without liver replacement. The most common liver disease in kids who prerequisite liver transplant is biliary atresia. It generally occurs in newborns.
Other conditions may include:
- Liver cancer
- Unexpected or acute liver failure
- Genetic and hereditary liver diseases
- Conditions existing at birth, like Alagille syndrome or cholestasis disorders
- Viral hepatitis
- Too much iron buildup in the body, which can damage the liver, known as hemochromatosis.
- Alpha-1 anti-trypsin
What Happens Before, During, and After the Transplant?
1 – Before surgery
Generally, if a child’s doctor thinks that a child is a right candidate for surgery, then a surgeon will refer a child to a transplant centre. Here, there will be a team of surgeons, liver specialists, nurses, nutritionists, psychologists, and social workers.
They will conduct a pre-transplant evaluation through various tests such as blood tests, imaging tests, physical examination, and liver biopsy. If the team determines liver transplant is the best option for a child, and parents and the team agree to move forward, then the transplant team will perform surgery.
2 – On surgery day
Once the liver is available for a child, a child will be told to go to the hospital right away. This call can occur at any time. Therefore, parents and a child should always be ready to go to the hospital. Transplantation surgery may take several hours. It will vary depending on a child’s case. The procedure may vary as per a child’s condition and the provider’s practices.
3 – After surgery
After the surgery, the transplant team will send a child to the ICU. Therefore, they can observe him/her carefully. The duration that a child will spend in the ICU will vary based on a child’s condition.
After a child is steady, he/she will be sent to the specialized hospital unit where they care for liver transplant patients. Here, parents will learn about how to care for their children. It includes info about medications, physical activity, follow-up, diet plan, and other instructions from a child’s transplant team.
What are the Potential Complications Linked with a Liver Transplant Surgery?
Rejection is one of the most common problems after transplant surgery. By prescribing some anti-rejection medication, a doctor can control rejection. The transplant team will decide which medicine is best for a child, and a child needs to take this medicine exactly as prescribed.
Concisely, living with a transplant is a life-long procedure. When a child gets a liver transplant, a child must take prescribed medications such as anti-rejection or other medicines properly. Therefore, the transplanted organ remains in tip-top condition. Parents and a child must keep in touch with the transplant team and learn about anti-rejection medications – what they do, the signs of rejection, and everything else related to a pediatric liver transplant. Therefore, a child can eventually care for himself/herself independently.
Remember, every child is unique, and every liver transplant surgery is different. However, results consistently improve as doctors and scientists learn more about how the body deals with transplanted organs and look for ways to improve pediatric liver transplantation.