As a transplant patient or individual suffering from advanced organ failure, you may have a lot of questions about the treatment or transplant process. Our team is here to provide answers to all your questions, some of which may be included below.
General Transplant FAQs
How are transplanted organs allocated?
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is responsible for all transplant organ distribution in the United States. UNOS receives data from medical centers around the country regarding patients who need organ transplants and assigns each patient a status code. The people in most urgent need of a transplant are given the highest status and have first priority when a donor organ becomes available.
How is an individual placed on the waiting list for an organ?
Before we place patients on the transplant list, we guide them through the Houston Methodist transplant evaluation process, which includes diagnostic tests, blood tests, a psychological and social evaluation and other exams.
How long will it take to get a new organ?
There is no definitive answer as to how long it will take. Sometimes people wait only a few days or weeks before receiving a donor organ, while others wait much longer. If no living donor is available, it may take months or years before a suitable organ is available.
How are patients notified when an organ is available?
Each transplant team has its own specific guidelines around notifying patients when a donor organ is available. In most instances, you will be notified by phone and asked to come to the hospital immediately.
What is rejection?
Rejection is a normal reaction of the body to a foreign object. When a new organ is placed in a person's body, the body sees the transplanted organ as a threat and tries to attack it. Medications called immunosuppressants, known also as anti-rejection medications, help the immune system accept the transplanted organ. Some patients may need to take immunosuppressants for many months after transplant, and, in some cases, for the rest of their lives.
What is done to prevent rejection?
Transplant recipients must take medications to fight rejection. Each person is a unique case, and each transplant team has preferences for different medications. The anti-rejection medications most commonly used include cyclosporine (Neoral), tacrolimus (Prograf), mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept) and prednisone.
What are the signs of rejection?
While each patient is different, common symptoms may include the following conditions:
- A fever greater than 100° F
- Yellow eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Urine dark in color
- Abdominal swelling or tenderness
Oftentimes, patients experience rejection with no symptoms whatsoever, so it is important to keep all follow-up appointments with the transplant clinic to test your blood for antibodies and other indicators.
What is the long-term outlook after a transplant?
Living with a transplant is a life-long process. Patients must take medications that trick the immune system so it will not attack the transplanted organ. Other medications will be needed to prevent side effects of the anti-rejection medications, such as infection. Frequent contact with the transplant team is critical.
There is no good answer as to how long an individual can be expected to live after a transplant since every person and every transplant is unique. Results improve continually as physicians and scientists learn more about how the body deals with transplanted organs and as they search for ways to improve the success of transplantation.
Liver Disease FAQs
What is a liver transplant?
A liver transplant is an operation in which a diseased liver is replaced with a healthy one from another person. An entire liver or, sometimes, just a section may be transplanted. The liver may come from a deceased donor or from a family member who is willing to donate a part of his or her liver and is a suitable candidate to donate.
Individuals receiving a partial liver, in many cases, seem to do as well as those who receive a whole liver. Relatives who donate a portion of their liver can live healthy lives with the segment that remains.
Who needs a liver transplant?
A liver transplant is recommended for individuals who have serious liver dysfunction and will not be able to live without having the liver replaced. The most common liver disease for which transplants are performed is cirrhosis. Other diseases may include acute liver failure, biliary atresia, metabolic disease, liver cancer or autoimmune hepatitis.
Is cirrhosis only caused by drug or alcohol abuse?
While drug and alcohol abuse are frequent causes for cirrhosis, they are not the only ones. Cirrhosis can also be caused by poisons, infections, heart disease, chronic hepatitis, genetic diseases or even the patient’s own immune system (autoimmune cirrhosis).
Liver Cancer FAQs
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer is the presence of cancerous cells in the liver. It may be either primary, where it originates in the liver, or metastatic, where it originates in another area and spreads to the liver. To learn more, see about liver cancer.
How common is liver cancer?
Liver cancer incidence in the United States has risen steadily since the 1980s. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 25,500 American adults are estimated to be diagnosed with the disease in 2015. It is currently the fifth leading cause of cancer death for men and ninth among women.
What causes liver cancer?
While it is still unclear what exactly causes liver cancer, it has been linked to several of the following risk factors:
- Chronic hepatitis B and C
- Heavy alcohol use
- Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver
- Inherited metabolic diseases, such as tyrosinemia, alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency and Wilson’s disease
- Obesity, which can lead to fatty liver disease
How is liver cancer diagnosed?
Because patients rarely experience symptoms in the early stages of the disease, liver cancer can be tricky to diagnose. Your physician will begin with a physical examination to check for swelling or fluid retention in the abdomen and for jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. If any of these indicators are present, he or she may order blood work and imaging tests to get more information. To learn more about diagnosing liver cancer, visit more about liver cancer.
What are the survival rates for patients with liver cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for patients with liver cancer is 14 percent — but survival rates improve considerably with surgery or a transplant.
How do I choose a treatment center for liver cancer?
You will want to choose a center that treats a high volume of liver cancer patients and can perform a liver transplant, if one becomes necessary. At Houston Methodist, we treat more than 200 liver cancer patients each year, and our dedicated transplant team is here to guide you through the transplant process.
How is liver cancer treated?
The most effective method of treating liver cancer is through surgery — either a partial hepatectomy, which is the removal of the cancerous portion of the liver, or a liver transplant. Alternative methods, including intra-arterial liver tumor treatments and radiofrequency ablation, are available for patients who are not candidates for surgery. To learn more, visit treating liver cancer.
Does the Sherrie and Alan Conover Center for Liver Disease & Transplantation participate in clinical trials for liver cancer treatments?
Yes, our team is actively involved in clinical trials focused on various aspects of liver disease and transplantation. For information on current trials, visit our clinical trials page.
Living Donor FAQs
Why living kidney donation?
Physicians at the Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center encourage every patient to ask family and friends to become donors. With living donation, patients have time to approach family members, friends and others about becoming kidney donors. Living donation provides a controlled and planned process, giving physicians time to plan for the unexpected.
More than 100,000 Americans are currently awaiting lifesaving kidney transplants. Sadly, the lack of deceased organ donors means several thousand people die waiting every year.
Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center performs more than 150 kidney transplants each year and is the most active kidney transplant program in Houston.
Who can be a living donor?
Living donors are an extremely diverse group. Mothers, fathers, children, siblings, friends and even fellow church members give the gift of life to their loved ones. Just about anyone can be evaluated to be a kidney donor. Blood relation is not required. Donors must simply be in good general health, have good kidney function and be willing to give the gift of life. Most kidney donors are younger, but many people in their 50s and 60s have donated kidneys as well.
Will donating a kidney affect my ability to have children?
The available data shows no connection between donating a kidney and increased risk of complications during pregnancy. A man's fertility will not be affected.
What are the risks for the donor?
As with any surgery, there are risks to the living donation operation, but they are very similar to any other elective procedure in a healthy person. That is why Houston Methodist requires thorough evaluations for the medical, social and psychological well-being of all donors. The donor comes first at Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center.
Can I donate to someone who does not live in this area?
Yes, you can still donate. The transplant team can arrange to have your evaluation done at a hospital in your area. The surgery usually takes place in the recipient's hospital, but special arrangements can be made depending on your circumstances. Your recipient's transplant team will be happy to provide more information.
How much time will I need to take off work?
Your ability to return to work depends on the demands of your job. Donors who work at a desk job can be back to work in as little as three weeks. If your job is more physically demanding, it may take six weeks or more before you are ready to return.
How long will I be in the hospital?
Many donors only spend one day in the hospital; for others, it could be two or three.
Where can I get more information about living donation?
For more information about living donation, call us at 713.441.5451.