Breakthrough hepatitis C treatment helps those in need of organ transplants
January 29, 2018
With three daughters and eight nieces and nephews, Brad Goodman, 37, always has a family celebration on his calendar. “My family is everything to me,” said the north suburban man. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to be a part of their lives.”
But starting in 2011, Goodman’s health gradually declined due to a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). This chronic, progressive condition inflames and blocks the bile ducts connecting the liver and small intestine. “My first hospitalization took place the week before my wedding,” he said.
Eventually Goodman, a political consultant, was in and out of the hospital regularly with complications from PSC. “My liver was failing and I had lost any quality of life,” he said. “I knew that without a new liver, I would not live to see my children grow up. It was a scary time for our family.”
Goodman was added to the liver transplant waiting list in 2015. More than a year went by without an available organ. He was running out of time.
Then his University of Chicago Medicine doctors asked him a surprising question: Would he accept a donor liver that was positive for the hepatitis C virus?
“The only thing I knew about hepatitis C was that people get liver transplants because they had it,” Goodman said. “Once I was educated about it, there was no hesitation, not at all.”
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that affects an estimated 71 million people worldwide. It used to be very difficult to treat. But seven years ago, a new class of anti-viral medications dramatically improved outcomes.
This progress in treating hepatitis C is creating unexpected ripple effects in the world of organ transplants. Organs from hepatitis C-positive donors were typically rejected by most transplant teams in all but the most desperate of cases, due to concerns over the infection causing post-transplant organ loss. But a few select centers, including UChicago Medicine, have reconsidered that philosophy in light of the new drugs.
“Hepatitis C is the easiest thing we treat these days and we can cure almost everyone,” said, Michael Charlton, MD, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at UChicago Medicine. “So if we take livers that are really healthy from young, heroic donors who had hepatitis C and offer them to patients who have life-threatening or quality of life-altering conditions, they can get a transplant much sooner.”
UChicago Medicine is the one of the few centers that transplants hepatitis C-positive livers.
Goodman said he appreciated the honesty with which Charlton and his other physicians — including David T. Rubin, MD, co-director of the Digestive Diseases Center and surgeon Talia Baker, MD — presented him with the choice.
On August 20, 2017, 640 days after Goodman went on the transplant list, he got the call: A liver was available. The surgery was successful, and after three months on antiviral medication, Goodman was cured of hepatitis C.
As he recovered, Goodman regained his energy and the 50 pounds he lost while sick. After working for candidates during the busy election season in the fall, he and his family headed to Florida for a much-needed vacation.
“I feel great, and I can now enjoy my family time so much more,” he said. “Without my medical team, I wouldn’t be here today. I am beyond blessed.”
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Michael Charlton, MBBS
Dr. Charlton is an internationally renowned specialist in liver diseases and transplant medicine. Listed among "America's Top Doctors" and "Best Doctors in America," he has particular expertise in the diagnosis, treatment and management of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.See Dr. Charlton's profile
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