Best Life: Innovative transplants

Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:07 AM CDT
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – More than 3,500 people are waiting for a heart transplant right now.

Many of them will wait longer than six months and some will die while on the list, but now doctors are using not-so-perfect donor hearts to give people a second chance at living.

It was just another day of hiking when Jacob May had the wind knocked out of him.

“It took me twice as long to get back to the truck. I was completely short of breath,” said May.

May had beaten leukemia more than a decade ago and was told the chemo could one day cause heart problems. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, the 46-year-old needed a heart transplant.

“They told me it could be years wait time, it could be a couple of weeks,” said May.

“There’s a big gap between the number of patients that are awaiting organs and then the number of organs available every year for transplantation,” said Dr. Josef Stehlik, the University of Utah Health transplant cardiologist.

Innovative approaches in heart transplantation gave May more options. Doctors at the University of Utah are using hearts that would not have been acceptable a few years ago for transplantation now — including hearts that are infected with hepatitis C.

“There have been new medications developed that are curative for hepatitis C, so, antiviral medications that will eliminate the virus,” said Dr. Stehlik.

Even if the donor has not received treatment for Hep C before death, Dr. Stehlik says they can transplant the organ.

“While the virus will be transmitted to the recipient, we’ll provide treatment for hepatitis C and eliminate the virus fully within the first weeks after heart or other solid organ transplantation,” said Dr. Stehlik.

May waited 111 days before he was matched with a heart infected with hepatitis C.

“We figured the risk was worth taking to give me a new lease because there was no telling how long the old one was going to hang out for me,” said May.

So far, May has tested negative for Hep C and will continue to be tested for it, but he says it’s a risk worth taking.

“I’ve got a total of six kids altogether, so, it’s going to give me a chance to spend time with my family,” he said.

Dr. Stehlik says using hearts infected with hepatitis C for transplants can add an additional 200 transplants in the U.S. only.

Although hepatitis C is the first infected heart being used for transplantation, Dr. Stehlik believes that in the future possibly HIV-infected hearts will also be viable for transplantation.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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