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The influence of postoperative complications on employment and health status following orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) remains elusive. Postoperative complications were scored prospectively using a standardized medical outcome classification in each patient transplanted at Duke University from October 1992 to January 1995. Functional status was evaluated by using the Karnofsky score. Between 12 and 18 months following transplantation, patients were asked to complete mailed questionnaires to assess employment and health status (SF-36). The response rate was 86% (42 of 49 eligible patients). The mean patient age was 48 yr. Sixteen of 42 patients (38%) exhibited minimal or no postoperative complications, and 62% exhibited moderate to severe postoperative complications. Age, gender, education, UNOS status for severity of disease, insurance status, and Karnofsky score did not correlate with postoperative complications. Postoperative complications did not predict employment post-transplantation. Paradoxically, patients with minimal or no postoperative complications perceived that their health status was significantly impaired post-transplantation, as evidenced by a median score of 0 in the role-physical subscale of the SF-36, in contrast to those patients with moderate or severe postoperative complications who exhibited a median score of 25 (p < 0.01). Similarly, patients with minimal or no postoperative complications had significantly lower scores on the mental health subscale than those with moderate or severe complications, with median score of 60 vs. 78 (p < 0.03). The physical functioning subscale was not affected by postoperative complications. Thirteen of 42 (31%) respondents returned to full employment post-transplantation. Health perceptions differed with respect to employment status post-transplantation. Patients unemployed post-transplantation exhibited a median score of 55 in the physical functioning subscale, a value much lower than the median score of 80 in the patients who were employed post-transplantation (p < 0.02). No differences in the role physical or mental health subscales were noted with respect to employment status post-transplantation. Employment status was unaffected by Karnofsky status, indicating that functional status does not predict employment. In conclusion, patients exhibited very poor health perceptions post-transplantation, irrespective of postoperative complications. Prospective evaluation of patients undergoing liver transplantation revealed that medical complications did not affect employment post-transplantation.