Hepatitis C-infected organs safe for transplant, saving lives

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CLEVELAND-– 2018 was a record year for organ donation according to Lifeline of Ohio. One contributing factor, the ability of hospitals to use organs from donors with Hepatitis C.

“More and more of our donors are coming from people who might have had an overdose death and a significant proportion of them have Hepatitis C,” explained Dr. Miriam Jacob, a cardiologist and staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic.

The new innovation allows doctors to transplant infected organs and then cure the virus in the new patient.

“In the past, we weren’t offering Hepatitis C positive organs and we do now because we have excellent treatments for it,” Jacob said.

Jen Simenc, 45, of Mentor is one of the hundreds who has received a second chance at life because of organ donation. Simenc accepted a Hepatitis C heart in September when Dr. Jacob, the Cleveland Clinic’s transplant team and hepatologists brought the idea to her.

“We were at the point where there was nothing else that they could do and I had a machine pumping my heart basically and I may not have gotten a heart,” Simenc said.

Simenc was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a former of heart failure where the stiffness of the heart prevents it from pumping enough blood to the rest of the body.

The Cleveland Clinic has about 100 people every year who need heart transplants, but they only do about 50, because there aren’t enough donors.

“Quite a few of our patients wait a really long time and it can be months. Some people wait over a year or years waiting for organs,” Jacob said.

Simenc waited in the ICU for 65 days before getting the call that she had matched with a Hepatitis C donor.

“They’re good organs they just happen to have hepatitis C and since it’s treatable we feel like it’s a good option for a lot of our patients,” Jacob explained.

Simenc’s transplant was successful and as expected, a few days later, she tested positive for Hepatitis C. Her doctors started her on the treatment and within a few months, she was completely cured and at home, recovering well from her transplant.

“My whole life has changed. The whole universe sort of, which sounds so corny, but everything aligned I could say a thousand things that aligned in the last year that I would have never understood,” Simenc said.

Simenc says she never expected to need a heart transplant, but is so grateful that her donor was there when she had no other options.

“If you can turn something that might have been negative into something positive that person saved my life and it’s really an honor to have the heart,” she said.

To register as an organ donor you can register online, select the option at the BMV when renewing your license or complete a paper form. For more information, click here.

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