Since the initial descriptions of orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) in the 1960s, both the number of patients receiving transplants and the indications for the procedure have increased significantly. OLT represents the only treatment modality for many patients with a diverse spectrum of disease, with the predominant common factor end-stage liver failure. Advances in perioperative care of the donor and recipient, organ preservation methods, and surgical techniques have resulted in a 5 year overall survival of 78% for all recipients (Kim et al, 2015).
The first published description of human liver transplantation was by Starzl and colleagues in 1963 at the University of Colorado. In this seminal paper, the dismal outcomes of three OLT recipients were described, including one intraoperative death from uncorrectable coagulopathy and two survivors of 7 and 22 days. In addition to the pioneering conceptual framework and implementation of LT, the advanced techniques included grafts from non–heart-beating donors, venovenous bypass in the recipients, choledochocholedochostomy, and coagulation monitoring by using thromboelastography (TEG). Many of these concepts remain or have reentered the realm of LT more than 40 years after their initial description. Based largely on the initial body of work by Starzl and colleagues, this section describes the surgical procedures commonly used worlwide.
The typical deceased donor has had a catastrophic head injury or an intracerebral bleed, with brain death but without multisystem organ failure. Electrolyte imbalance and hepatic steatosis in the donor are predictors of graft nonfunction. A “donor risk index” has been derived to assess the likelihood of good graft function. Key adverse factors include older donor age (especially >60 years of age), use of a split or partial graft, and a non–heart-beating donor, from which the organs are harvested after the donor’s cardiac output ceases, in contrast to the more typical deceased donation in which the organs are harvested prior to cardiovascular collapse. Use of non–heart-beating donors is associated with reduced rates of long-term graft survival and increased risk of biliary complications, which correlate with the duration of “warm ischemia” after cardiovascular collapse and before retrieval of the organ. With the critical shortage of deceased organ donors, expansion of the donor pool has included acceptance of donors 70 years of age and older for selected recipients. Prior to hepatectomy, the harvesting team makes a visual and, if necessary, histologic assessment of the donor organ. Particular attention is paid to anatomic variants in the hepatic artery that may complicate the graft arterial anastomosis in the recipient. Once donor circulation is interrupted, the organ is rapidly infused with a cold preservation solution (e.g., University of Wisconsin, histidine-tryptophan-ketoglutarate, or Institut Georges Lopez solution). Donor iliac arteries and veins are also retrieved in case vascular grafting is required. After its arrival at the recipient institution, further vascular dissection, with arterial reconstruction if necessary, is performed before implantation.
Major challenges remain in LT, including the shortage of donor organs, threat of recurrent disease, and morbidity associated with lifelong therapeutic immunosuppression. Nevertheless, the availability of LT has transformed the lives of patients with advancing liver disease and their health care providers from an ultimately futile effort to manage the complications of cirrhosis into a life-prolonging and life-enhancing intervention.