A transplant patient has a new kidney and is free of hepatitis C after deciding to take an infected kidney rather than staying on dialysis.
Elliott Stevens of Suitland, Maryland, said dialysis took a toll on him. A married father of two with a long career delivering packages for FedEx, his kidneys started to fail him in his 50s.
“I was hooked to a machine for four hours, three days a week, which after treatment from the dialysis, after being off that machine, my day was pretty much done,” he said. “All I could do was get in to bed and rest.”
He couldn’t work or travel.
“It just drained my body,” he said. “I couldn't do things with my daughters or go out with my wife to dinner and things like that.”
After about 15 months on the transplant list, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital called to tell him they had a match for a kidney, but with a catch: The donor kidney was infected with hepatitis C, which can slowly destroy the liver.
Patients can wait several years to find a suitable donor, and a lot of people don’t survive the wait, so Stevens chose to take the infected kidney and spend three months on medication to cure the hepatitis.
“I took the chance because I looked at my daughters and my wife and I said, you know, I want to spend more time with them,” he said.
Stevens was a candidate for the infected kidney because he already had hepatitis C from a childhood blood transfusion, he said.
“We wouldn't want to give it to just anybody,” said transplant nephrologist Dr. Alexander Gilbert, whose team managed the transplant. “But for example, patients who don’t do well on dialysis, who have exceptionally long times to wait, they’re patients who their only choice for transplant may be to get a hepatitis C positive kidney.”
In a small study, all transplant patients who volunteered to take kidneys infected with hepatitis C were free of hepatitis within three months thanks to powerful new drugs that can cure it quickly with few side effects.
Gilbert’s team at Georgetown is hopeful about this chance to help more people who need kidney transplants.
“We look for ways to not waste those kidneys,” Gilbert said. “The last thing we want to do with 100,000 people waiting for kidneys is to waste any of them.”
But more research is needed to confirm the results of the small study before they can start offering more infected kidney transplants.
Stevens wants to spread the word that this option works.
“I feel grateful to give back what someone has given me, and that's a second chance at life,” he said.