Tarrant County

Infected Organ Saves Life of Tarrant County Woman

Doctors say using hepatitis C positive organ donors is another way to increase the number of organs available for transplant. 

In the wake of the opioid crisis, more donated organs are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and many are declined as a result. But a Tarrant County woman says she's proof that hepatitis C positive organs can still save lives.

The new approach prevents transplant patients from getting the virus from infected donor hearts and lungs.

A new study showed researchers were able to prevent transmission of hepatitis C by treating heart and lung transplant patients with antiviral medications.

At age 36, Kimberly Wilt was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. By age 38, she had cirrhosis of the liver and learned that she'd need a transplant.

"He said that it was like walking a tightrope. One day, it would have failed and who knows if there would have been a liver available at that time," Wilt said.

She was on the liver transplant list for six months when she got the call about a potential new liver. The organ, however, tested positive for hepatitis C, a form of viral hepatitis transmitted in infected blood.

"I think a lot of people might instantly say, 'Why am I going to get a new liver that comes with a disease?,'" said Wilt, who described how she watched her mother fight hepatitis C 20 years ago.

"I had to watch her put injections in her stomach and it really messed with her mind," Wilt said. "I didn't want to do that at all."

Thanks to new antivirals, Wilt would be able to get the organ and fight hepatitis C without having to through what her mother went through.

After the transplant through Baylor University Medical Center's liver transplant program, Wilt started a 12-week antiviral treatment, which included daily pills and few side effects.

Dr. Robert Rahimi, transplant hepatologist at Baylor University Medical Center, said up to 99% of patients who contract hepatitis C from a donated organ can be cured in eight to 12 weeks.

Typically, these organs had been discarded because of concerns about spreading the viral infection. 

"It's become amazing. It's a game changer," said Rahimi, who added that medical advancements have opened the door to using hepatitis C positive hearts, lungs and kidneys.

He said in rare cases, hepatitis C could develop in organ recipients after their initial antiviral, but it is still treatable. 

Three months after her transplant, Wilt was free of hepatitis C and now encourages other patients on transplant waiting lists to consider the option.

"Get off the list. Stop waiting. I would do it again in a heartbeat."

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