DALLAS – New antiviral drugs that can actually cure hepatitis C are proving so effective that doctors are now doing what had previously been unheard of -- they're transplanting infected livers into patients who are on liver transplant wait lists, and then curing the hepatitis C afterwards.
Kimberly Wilt had a fatty liver that developed into cirrhosis. She found herself on the liver transplant list.
"I was in shock. I'm in my 30's. How am I going to have a transplant at this time? I wasn't prepared for it whatsoever," Wilt said.
Multiple calls fell through, and then her doctor asked if she would be willing to take a liver infected with hepatitis C.
"We told her, we said, 'Look, it's very easy, now. You take a pill daily between eight to 12 weeks, and we guarantee between 97 to 99 percent cure rate," said Dr. Robert Rahimi, a transplant hepatologist at Baylor Scott and White in Dallas.
"When he took my liver out, he said it looked like I was walking a tight rope. One day it would have just completely failed, and who knows if there would have been a liver that would have matched my blood type, my size and been in good enough condition for a transplant," Wilt said.
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Taking the antiviral drugs, Wilt's hepatitis C was undetectable within three months.
"I have a new life. It's completely new, it's not anywhere near where it was a year ago," Wilt said.
"This is now adapting all across the United States and the world. Over time, it's going to save thousands of lives," Rahimi said.
Currently there are nearly 1,700 people in the United States waiting for a liver transplant.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports these new antiviral drugs are so effective that other infected body parts, such as hearts and lungs, can also be transplanted, and then cleared of the disease after the transplant.