Liver Transplant

Over the years, Iowans and their neighbors have trusted that the best care for complex diseases can be found at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and UI Stead Family Children's Hospital.

For adult and pediatric transplant patients facing a liver transplant, the University of Iowa Organ Transplant Center is their foremost choice for many reasons:

  • Shorter times on the organ waiting list
  • Exceptional transplant outcomes
  • A dedicated team of specialists who focus on your care
  • Thorough follow up care that’s coordinated with your local physician

Liver Transplant: Your Best Choice

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has performed liver transplants on adults and children since 1984. Our liver transplant program is among the nation's best, with excellent outcomes and dedicated service to our patients.

Iowa’s only Blue Designation Center® for transplant

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has recognized the UI Hospitals & Clinics as a Blue Distinction Center® for delivering quality transplant care.

Blue Distinction Centers® have demonstrated the delivery of quality specialty care based on objective, transparent measures for patient safety and health outcomes that were developed with input from the medical community. UI Hospitals & Clinics is the only Iowa health system to receive this designation.

The personal side of your care

The care and convenience afforded you at UI Hospitals & Clinics is unmatched. We work hard to assure your comfort during your evaluation, waiting period, and throughout the transplant process.

During your transplant and recovery, family members will likely spend time in the Iowa City area to follow you through your care. Our patients and families are delighted to discover how livable Iowa City and surrounding communities are, with many lodging, dining, and shopping choices just a few minutes from the hospital.

Choosing the UI Liver Transplant Program

Our team is made up of caring, empathetic, compassionate experts in their field. We have designed our referral and evaluation process to be as patient-friendly as possible.

Our services are available around the state, allowing patients to be seen by members of our core team in the Des Moines area, Dubuque, and Davenport in addition to Iowa City.

Our evaluation process is patient friendly and efficient. Our mission is to work with transplant candidates to help them get to their transplant goal as quickly as possible.

Because our waiting list is relatively short, we have been able to transplant people before they become too sick. These factors, combined with the exceptional expertise of our team, mean that fewer people on the Iowa liver transplant waiting list die while waiting for a transplant.

The UI Organ Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery Center provides comprehensive management of all medical and surgical diseases of the liver and bile ducts. Our staff members care for patients with a variety of diseases that might lead to acute or chronic liver failure who might ultimately require liver transplantation. In addition, we offer expertise in the treatment of benign and malignant liver masses, and malignant diseases of the gall bladder and bile ducts.

Who Should Be Evaluated

Liver transplantation is the treatment of choice for most people with end stage liver failure from many different causes. A successful liver transplant will extend life and treat many of the complications of liver failure.

Complications of liver failure treated by a liver transplant 

  • Ascites (abdominal fluid accumulation)
  • Encephalopathy (confusion and coma)
  • Gastro-intestinal bleeding 
  • Malnutrition (muscle wasting and bone disease)
  • Other problems that result from liver failure

Diseases that can benefit from liver transplantation

  • Cirrhosis from chronic hepatitis B or C
  • Acute liver failure from many different causes (fulminant hepatic failure)
  • Cirrhosis from alcoholic liver disease in sober patients
  • Some liver cancers
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Cirrhosis from auto-immune hepatitis
  • Many causes of cirrhosis in children such as biliary atresia and genetic errors of metabolism such as glycogen or ammonia cycle enzyme deficiencies
  • Others

Liver transplant referral

You can be referred for a liver transplant evaluation by your gastroenterologist, primary care physician, or a self-referral. To begin the process you can contact the UI Organ Transplant Center at 1-877-386-9108.

Most patients with liver problems have other medical illnesses. While these problems may be limiting factors in some instances, each patient is evaluated on an individual basis. We encourage you or your referring physicians to contact us to review your medical history to see if you might benefit from transplantation. An early evaluation, before you get too sick from the complications of liver disease, is never a bad idea. Our outstanding group of hepatologists (medical physicians specializing in the care of liver diseases) can work with your referring physician in the interim to keep you healthy.

Liver Transplant Patient Outcomes

Source: Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients for 07/01/2018-03/12/2020, 06/13/2020-12/31/2020
  UI Health Care National
1 year post-transplant graft (organ) survival 90.05% 91.90%
1 year post-transplant patient survival 92.33% 93.82%

The Liver Transplant Wait List

Once you are placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) wait list, you may be curious about how an organ gets assigned to you.

In general organs are first assigned to patients locally, near the center where they are listed, then within a multi-state region, and then nationally. Livers are assigned primarily by severity of illness using a scoring system called MELD (Medical Endstage Liver Disease) Score; in general, the sicker you are, the higher your MELD score and the more likely you are to receive a liver. We share livers within our multi-state region (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska) for patients who are very sick.

You are free to list at more than one center within a region or in more than one region in the nation if you have the ability to do so and you think it will increase your chances of getting transplanted.

Contact information and status updates

We must know how to reach you at all times once you are listed. It is important that you keep your contact information current and inform us when you will be away. We also need to know about any changes in your health, as it may affect your ability to be transplanted. It can be life threatening if we transplant you when you are sick.

Waiting for an organ can take months, even years. It will be necessary for you to return to the UI Organ Transplant Center to update your evaluation from time to time as dictated by your degree of illness. We will contact you when it is time to arrange these appointments.

We will insist that you and your physicians send us any information that may be relevant to your status as a transplant candidate. Updates should include information about your illness, your social situation and insurance coverage, as well as your success at meeting all recommended general health guidelines for your age and gender.

When an organ becomes available

It can be both exciting and stressful when you eventually receive the call that an organ is available for you.

While the wait for an organ can be unpredictable, it is best to make preparations well in advance. The call can come any time of day or night and you must have a reliable way to get to the University of Iowa in a reasonably short time frame (four to six hours).

Make sure plans are in place to take care of all of your needs at home, such as care for children or pets, and that at least one support person can come with you.

We want you to arrive quickly, but most of all we want you to arrive safely.

Bring all of your current medications and comfort needs.

Care Team

Every member of our multidisciplinary team specializes in transplant care. Each one brings years of expertise to your transplant case.

Assistant Nurse Manager

  • Andrea Koehler, RN, BSN

Nurse Coordinators

  • Theresa Moore, RN, MSN
  • Julie Rogers, RN, MSN
  • Shey Stillings, RN, BSN
  • Amber Upah, RN, BSN
  • Gretchen Warkentin, RN, CNN, CCTC
  • Jamie White, RN, BSN

Social Workers

  • Tarrah Cassens, LMSW
  • Amy Lemke, MSW, NSW-C, LISW, LCSW
  • Erica Morris, MSW, LISW

Administrative Services Manager

  • Beth Schenkel

Financial Coordinators

  • Taylor Casey
  • Israel A. Cuevas
  • David Dohrer