January 25, 2017 11:51 am
Updated: January 25, 2017 3:19 pm

U.S. doctors use hepatitis C-infected liver in transplant to save man days from death

WATCH: Man chooses to take liver with hepatitis C rather than dying.

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Health experts say there may be new hope for patients who are waiting for a liver transplant. Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, claim they have found a way to safely use a damaged liver to replace a dying one.

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Doctors successfully did this to Lorenzo Swank, who was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) three years ago. The incurable chronic disease slowly damages bile ducts in the liver, which can cause the organ to fail.

“Getting a transplant was the only solution that would allow me to overcome PSC,” Swank said.

According to the Intermountain Medical Center, in 2016, there were 30,000 people on the liver transplant list in the U.S. Only 7,000 people received a new liver. And in Canada, the most recent Health Canada statistics reveal that more than 4,500 people are waiting for an organ transplant.

Swank said he was nervous that he was never going to receive the liver transplant that he needed to survive.

But Dr. Richard Gilroy, director of the Liver Transplantation Program at Intermountain Medical Center, presented Swank with an unconventional option: getting a liver from a donor who had hepatitis C.

Ironically enough, hepatitis C is a common reason people need a liver transplant. But doctors chose a younger donor who did not have any scarring on his liver.

“If I had not received the hepatitis C positive liver, I was weeks, if not days away from dying,” Swank said.

During the surgery, Swank’s dying liver was removed and replaced with the hepatitis C-infected liver. Following the procedure, doctors said Swank was on a tight regimen of medication for three weeks to fight the virus. Doctors say he is now hepatitis C-free.

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“Giving a curable disease to a patient is a lot better than letting them die from an incurable disease,” Gilroy said. “We feel this new method will save many more lives by increasing the number of available donor livers to those on the liver transplant wait list.”

As for Swank, he told one news station that replacing his liver with an infected liver was worth the risk for a second chance at life. He says he’ll never forget the feeling he had when he stepped outside a few days after his surgery.

“I sat down right in front of the fountain and the rain just poured on me, and I just cried because I was alive, and I was feeling the rain. I knew I was gonna live,” he told KSL.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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