Living donor transplantation has emotional benefits, too


When it comes to life-saving liver transplantation for children, receiving an organ from a living donor has a variety of medical advantages compared to one from a deceased donor. Those advantages include reduced wait time, better availability and quality of organs, ease of scheduling, and improved medical outcomes. But are there also emotional benefits?

In a recent study published in Progress in Transplantation, nurse scientist Annette Nasr, RN, PhD, and her colleagues set out to learn about the emotional and familial experience of adults who donated a portion of their liver to their child. Dr. Nasr became interested in studying the long-term emotional effects of being a living donor when she was a transplant coordinator at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. “I always wondered what happened to the donors when they went home, and how the donation affected their family dynamics.”

Dr. Nasr, who is also a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and her colleagues conducted interviews with parent donors. They found that, while living donation has physical and emotional risks, parents found it to be a “transformational” experience. The study found that parents participating in living liver donation felt empowered because, by donating part of their own body, they were directly involved in saving their child’s life. The results also showed that donors felt empowered in a situation that might otherwise feel out of their control. One participant commented that, “with living-related donation, we knew where the liver was coming from, and we could schedule it. It was a better match and the survival rate was better.”

Another effect observed was the focus on relationships, with many donors noting that their relationship with their child became “stronger than the normal parent-child bond.” One donor noted that her child’s behavior post-transplant indicates that they “have this enormous bond that’s a little bit more than the norm. She knows that her mommy has done something extra special for her.”

The study also highlighted an increased awareness of community and how it provided support before, during, and after the transplant. Donors were largely left with a desire to give back to their communities.

“All of the donors who participated experienced a life-changing event that transformed them,” Nasr says. As one parent donor put it, “I would come to my daughter and you know it was a great impact on my life at that point. It cleansed my mental state and built a new life by recreating family and inner self.”

They study found that, after donation, parents became more than parents; they were “individuals who had risked their lives to save the lives of their children.” This experience not only strengthened immediate family bonds, but helped to extend those bonds beyond the self, beyond the family and into the community.