YOUR HEALTH: Saving transplant organs that would have been tossed away

A medical team gave him his new heart and cured the Hepatitis C that came with it.

SEATTLE, Washington – Some of the top transplantation programs in the country are now addressing the shortage by accepting hearts from donors who had active Hepatitis C.

Recipients know they'll get the disease, but so far they've all been cured.

That included Kerry Hayes who has had a faulty aortic valve since he was born.

"I wasn't getting the oxygen I was supposed to get," he said.

"Blood would flow back and forth instead of all one direction."

He got an artificial heart a year and a half ago, which is almost as long as he was on the list for a donor heart.

His doctor found Kerry a heart from a donor who had Hep C.   It could be cured with antiretrovirals after surgery.

Kerry got his heart and just found out his Hep-C is gone.

"I felt that I was probably going to be cured, but you know, it feels good to have somebody tell you, 'Yes, you are for surely cured'."

Right now, as many as 4000 people in the United States are waiting for a heart or heart and lung transplant.

And more than 25% will die before they get a donor organ.

University of Washington transplant surgeon Dr. Jorge Reyes says 20 livers and hearts from donors with circulating Hepatitis C have gone to patients so far.

"They're Hep C negative," Dr. Reyes explained.

"They have never been exposed to Hep C, but the risk of dying of their liver disease or their heart disease, etc., is very high."

Twelve patients have been cured of Hep C, seven are still getting treatment and one died of transplant complications.

Not one of the potential recipients said no to the procedure.

"If we have a donor who is Hepatitis C positive, and with healthy organs, all those organs should be used," said Dr. Reyes.

Kerry`s still taking a lot of anti-rejection medication, but he's delighted to get back to his normal life with Rina, and his family.

"All the signs are pointing to getting back to being like everyone else."

Dr. Reyes says his team is looking at expanding the program to include kidneys from Hep C-infected donors but he wants more study done first.

In an initial study, 20 patients at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia were cured of Hep C after kidney transplants from infected donors.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.