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Doctors Are Using Diseased Organs To Save Lives. Here's How

From TIME - October 26, 2017

For two long years, Tom Giangiulio jr., 58, was on the national waiting list for a heart transplant. He had cardiomyopathy, a condition that can weaken the heart muscle, and although hed taken medication and had surgery to fix the problem, his doctors said there wasnt much more they could do. He would have to wait for a new heartand hope that he wouldnt become one of the 20 Americans to die every day while waiting for a transplant.

You wake up every morning and wonder if youre going to be around to go to sleep at night, says Giangiulio, who lives in Waterford Works, N.J. Its like looking into the tunnel, and theres no light on the other end.

At a doctors appointment at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, Giangiulio was approached with an unconventional offer: Would he be open to enrolling in a clinical trial that could get him a new heart faster, but would require him to behopefully brieflyinfected with the deadly virus hepatitis C?

Each year in the U.S., about 1,000 donor hearts get discarded because of the infection, which spreads through the bloodstream to the organs. But the disease can now be cured. In the past few years, several new, highly effective drugs for hepatitis C have been federally approved, and theyve been shown to clear hepatitis C up to 98% of the time.

MORE: The New Transplant Revolution

Now that hepatitis C is curable, we can use these organs and not worry about an increase in mortality, says Dr. Rhondalyn McLean, medical director of the hospitals heart-transplant program. This offered an opportunity to expand the donor pool.

Because so many people have died from the opioid epidemic, there have been more potential donor organs infected with hepatitis C in recent years. Cases of hepatitis C nearly tripled from 2010 to 2015, which experts attribute to a rise in injection-drug use. Young, otherwise healthy people are dying from a drug overdose, says Dr. David Goldberg, co-leader of the study and an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University Pennsylvania. There are a lot of potential donors.

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