By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — Some new transplant patients have a lot to be thankful for this year. They took a risk accepting organs that weren’t quite perfect.

That risk, though, could help others in the future.

Not long ago, Irma Hendrick couldn’t take her grandson for a walk. She was on dialysis for kidney failure and was sapped of energy.

A new clinical trial could mean more patients get organ transplants. (WBZ-TV)

A new clinical trial could mean more patients get organ transplants. (WBZ-TV)

“It reminds me of ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ believe it or not,” Hendrick said. “You see how the zombies are walking towards you? That’s exactly what I looked like coming out of dialysis.”

Irma was on the transplant list but there were no guarantees she would receive a new kidney, so last summer she volunteered to receive one infected with hepatitis C as part of a clinical trial.

Transplant centers typically ban these organs because hepatitis C can cause liver failure if left untreated. But Irma was given pills to fight the virus after she received the new kidney.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to have a transplant but we’re also treating them for a new infection they didn’t have. So that’s the trade-off,” Dr. Peter Reese, of the University of Pennsylvania, said.

Irma Hendrick, left, received a kidney infected with hepatitis C as part of the new trial. (WBZ-TV)

Irma Hendrick, left, received a kidney infected with hepatitis C as part of the new trial. (WBZ-TV)

Every year in the U.S., only about 17 percent of people waiting for kidneys receive them. This approach could allow many more patients to get transplants.

“There’s a whole pool of kidneys that we just kept looking over. It was like we had blinders to it,” Reese said.

Irma’s blood currently shows no evidence of hepatitis C and she’s regained a lot of her energy.

“My kidneys were functioning i think at 8 percent,” Hendrick said. “So it was worth the risk for me. If they didn’t have this study, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So i’m extremely grateful.”

 

There are more organs available these days due to a rise in drug overdose deaths but a significant percentage of them are infected with hepatitis C, so if the clinical trials are promising, this treatment protocol could potentially allow more of those organs to be used.

Dr. Mallika Marshall

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