Lorenzo Swank was diagnosed with a non-curable liver disease six years ago when he was 25. Last September, he was pretty sure he was going to die while waiting for a liver transplant.
That’s when doctors with the Intermountain Medical Center Transplant Program presented him with a revolutionary option: Accept a liver that had been damaged by hepatitis C to replace his dying liver, then take medication to cure his new liver of its disease.
Lorenzo agreed — and became the first patient in the United States to receive a hepatitis C-positive liver. Following his surgery, Lorenzo took six pills a day for 12 weeks to cure of the hepatitis C virus — a cure that was developed by a research team lead by Intermountain Medical Center physician Michael Charlton, MD, in 2015 — and now he has a healthy liver, and a healthy life.
“If I hadn’t received the hepatitis C-positive liver, I was weeks if not days away from dying,” said Lorenzo, who was grounded from traveling abroad for work because of his dying liver. “Now my doctors are telling me I can get back to my regularly scheduled life.”
Last year, more than 13,000 people in the United States were added to the liver transplant waiting list of around 17,000 people, but only 7,000 received a transplant. That creates an enormous supply-and-demand mismatch, and the result is, about 1,500 people die each year while they’re waiting for a transplant, and another 1,700 are removed from the transplant list because they get too sick to handle transplant surgery.
“Giving a curable disease to a patient is a lot better than letting them die from an incurable disease,” said Richard Gilroy, MD, medical director of the Liver Transplantation Program at Intermountain Medical Center. “We feel this new method will save many more lives by increasing the number of available donor livers to those on the liver transplant wait list. This outcome means more people can be saved before they get too sick and allows them to move back to an active life sooner.”
“It’s fantastic to be part of a process when you give people back what they lost,” he said.
One irony about the new procedure: Hepatitis C is the most common indication for a liver transplant nationally.
One other patient at Intermountain Medical Center has received the same transplant procedure using a hepatitis C positive liver and is currently undergoing the treatment regimen to cure his hepatitis C.