UAB Medicine News
Transplanting Organs From Hep C+ Donors Decreases Wait Times
Four years ago, 28-year-old Ana Kenney was told that she would either spend the rest of her life on dialysis or have to wait up to 10 years for a kidney transplant.
Today, she has a working kidney and is off dialysis, thanks to a new organ transplant program at UAB Medicine. Doctors at UAB are now able to safely transplant organs from hepatitis C-positive donors into uninfected recipients and then cure the hepatitis C with antiviral therapy.
This has allowed more organs to be transplanted, helping patients get transplanted sooner and enabling more people to lead healthier and longer lives. In the past, organs from hepatitis C-positive donors were available only for hepatitis C-positive recipients, which led to many such organs being discarded.
“The shortage of organs is a major impediment in access to lifesaving therapy of transplantation in patients with end-stage organ failure,” says Shikha Mehta, MD, a nephrologist who specializes in kidney transplantation in the UAB Division of Nephrology. “About 18 patients die each day waiting for an organ transplant. As a sad and unintended consequence of the opioid epidemic, there is an increased availability of hepatitis C-positive organs. Our new program helps combat the organ shortage and provides improved access to transplantation by using this pool of organs.”
A NEW ERA
In October 2019, UAB Medicine began transplanting kidneys and livers from infected donors into uninfected patients. The recipients are told ahead of time that the organ is from a hepatitis C-positive donor and that they will have to be treated for the illness after the transplant. If the patient agrees, the transplant candidate will receive the transplant and immediately start the three-month treatment.
Kenney, who was born with one kidney and later learned that it was no longer working, says receiving the new organ has changed her life since she was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2016. She was contacted by UAB Medicine in October 2019 and was asked if she would be willing to receive an organ from a hepatitis C-positive donor. She agreed, and a few weeks later on November 11, Kenney received a call saying that a kidney was available. Her kidney transplant surgery took place the next day.
“I can stay up late again . I can have late nights with my husband. I can have sleepovers with my kids again where we put blankets in our living room and stay up watching movies and eating popcorn. I can go out with my family and we no longer have to be home by 8:30 or 9 pm so I can plug into the dialysis machine,” Kenney says.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
To date, UAB has transplanted more than two-dozen kidneys and over a dozen livers from hepatitis C-positive donors to hepatitis-C negative recipients. Physicians plan to begin transplanting hearts and lungs from hepatitis C-infected donors in the future.
“There are more than 112,000 people in the United States who are currently waiting for an organ transplant, but there are not enough donors available to meet that need,” says Babak Orandi, MD, PhD,
a surgeon in the Division of Transplantation who specializes in liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants. “By using organs that might have been discarded in the past simply because the donor had hepatitis C, we can help more people achieve the benefits of transplantation.”