On May 31, 2019, the New York State Department of Health approved North Shore University Hospital’s Program in Liver Transplantation. This program, which is now open, is the first and only liver transplant center on Long Island. After a decade of planning, I am excited and proud that this life-saving service is now available for the millions of residents of Nassau and Suffolk Counties without them having to travel to New York City.
Liver disease affects one in three Americans with the most common causes of cirrhosis being alcohol, fatty liver associated with diabetes and hepatitis C. Most people with cirrhosis will never need a liver transplant. Still, thousands of people need new livers and are on liver transplantation lists across the country awaiting a new chance at life. The lists in New York are exceptionally long due to our large population, and an apparent lack of organ generosity among New Yorkers. Our area has some of the lowest organ donation rates in the country although recently, the number of organ donors in our areas has increased. We need to increase awareness about the importance of organ donation.
Most people with cirrhosis feel well until a catastrophe occurs. Some common presentations of decompensated liver disease are jaundice, the development of ascites or fluid in the abdomen, variceal bleeding, hepatic encephalopathy and liver cancer. Many people with these complications are never sent to liver transplant centers where their lives could be saved.
Because of this, in addition to having a liver transplant center on Long Island, our area needs to educate our health care providers and population about the signs and symptoms of liver disease and that care is available. The growing number of people with end stage liver disease makes it imperative that community awareness is raised regarding liver transplantation and organ donation. As there is no artificial liver and no approved “liver dialysis,” the number of transplants performed can only increase if donation increases.
Liver transplantation has become a common, lifesaving operation. Unfortunately, its use remains limited due to a shortage of organs. Liver transplant recipients will receive the gift of life. Not surprisingly, the largest single group of people who die of liver disease are those that were never offered the chance of getting a liver transplantation in the first place. This occurs for many reasons from the medical to the psychosocial to a lack of awareness regarding liver disease and lack of proximity to a liver transplantation center.
Another big stumbling block to getting a liver transplant appears to be the lack of referral to a transplant center. If you do not get to a transplant center, you can never receive a new liver. In many communities, patients and physicians are not aware of the availability and feasibility of liver transplantation.
The new Liver Transplantation Program at Northwell will fill a much-needed void in the care of the patients on Long Island by providing education, family support, medical care and surgical care. This is a major step forward for our area.