The liver can fail for many reasons. When it does, toxins begin to build up in the body. These toxins can cause brain damage, coma and death. Once the liver has failed completely, many people's only option is to try to get a liver transplant.
A liver transplant is literally the process of taking the liver out of one body--recently deceased--and placing it in another body. If the liver transplant is successful, the new liver will begin filtering the toxins out of your bloodstream again. Liver transplants are extremely costly, not only because the procedure is risky, but also because numerous other factors can add to the cost, such as the medicine needed to keep your body from rejecting the new organ and the treatments that will be required if the procedure ends up being more complicated than your doctor predicts.
The first liver transplant was performed in 1967, but patients did not survive with any regularity until the 1980s, when a medicine called cyclosporine was invented to keep the body from attacking the new liver. Also around this time, methods were discovered that would keep a liver "fresh" and usable up to 24 hours after the original owner died. Today, over 35,000 people have had successful liver transplants. However, this is a high-risk procedure, and permanently increases your insurance and medical costs.
When you get a liver transplant, your health is permanently altered. Of course, not getting a transplant and trying to use a failing liver will also incur major medical costs, so this is not necessarily a good reason to forgo a transplant. However, when you are figuring out how much a transplant will actually cost you, make sure to factor in the costs of maintaining your healthy new liver, as well as the actual procedure itself.
Liver failure causes all sorts of problems, from jaundice to night blindness to fatigue to coma and death. Even with a new liver, you may experience some of these symptoms or need periodic treatment for them if the liver is not 100 accepted or effective in its "new" location. A new liver requires a high degree of vigilance and observation to prevent relapses or new health problems.
Many people think that the main cost of a liver transplant is the money. The actual cost of the procedure is between $100,000 and $400,000, depending on how long you spend in intensive care and what complications occur during surgery. However, you must not assume that these are the only expenses. It is possible that you will be in and out of the hospital several times as your body becomes accustomed to the new organ, and you will have to take medication to prevent your body from rejecting it. Maintaining your new liver and health can also cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next decades.
If you are considering a liver transplant, make sure you have all the facts. Do not go in thinking that the transplant will solve all your problems, and make sure you have someone to help you care for yourself and your family if necessary while you recover. Liver transplants can alter your entire life and give you a new lease on it, but you must be prepared for all of the potential drawbacks and benefits for your transplant to be a success.
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