Your Health: Making heart transplants easier

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 4:31 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - 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,” May said. “I was completely short of breath.”

Jacob 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,” May recalled.

“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.

But innovative approaches in heart transplantation gave Jacob 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.

Even if the donor has not received treatment for hep-c before death, Stehlik said 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,” Stehlik said.

Jacob 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 gonna hang out for me,” May said.

And so far, Jacob has tested negative for hep-c and will continue to be tested for it. But he said it’s a risk worth taking.

Doctor Stehlik said 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 hearts being used for transplantation, Stehlik believes that in the future possibly HIV infected hearts will also be viable for transplantation.

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