BOSTON (CBS) – After his first transplant failed, 26-year old Ben Blake was in need of another liver and fast. So he made the courageous decision to take one that is infected with a treatable disease in order to save his life.
“Ben is my only son and he was very sick at birth,” says Duane Blake.
Ben, had biliary atresia, a rare disease that eventually causes liver failure. At just seven months of age, he needed a liver transplant.
“Every day was really a blessing and a gift,” says Duane.
But by the end of college, Ben’s donor liver began to fail and he started to waste away. He lost 40 pounds, could barely walk, and was becoming forgetful.
“He was dying,” says Duane. “I had to watch that. My wife watched that. It was heart breaking. It was heart-wrenching.”
Ben needed a new liver, but after five years on the transplant list, his chances of getting one were still slim.
Then his doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital proposed something highly unusual. What if Ben were to accept a liver from a donor infected with Hepatitis C, a virus that can, itself, cause liver failure?
It was a risky proposal but Ben and his family decided he had few other options.
“I was skeptical. But I was pretty open to the idea because I was like, I feel bad now, I can’t get much worse than that,” explained Ben.
Just a few weeks ago, Ben became the first patient at MGH and one of the first in the country without Hepatitis C to receive a liver from a patient with Hepatitis C.
He is taking a medication for three months designed to treat the virus and hopefully keep him from getting infected. In the meantime, Ben says he feels great.
His color has improved. He’s eating and gaining weight.
Ben says for him, the decision to go ahead with this experimental transplant was an easy one.
“Would you rather be rotting away in a bed in a hospital or would you rather hopefully turn your life around?” asks Ben.
Ben and his father say they don’t know who his donor was but they’re eternally grateful to her and her family.
So far ben is showing no signs of Hepatitis C infection.
Dr. Parsia Vagefi, Ben’s liver transplant surgeon at MGH, explains that while this program is still in its infancy, it is allowing some highly selective patients who might otherwise die waiting for an organ to get one.