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New Transplant Trial Could Mean More Patients Get New Organs

BOSTON (CBS) -- Some new transplant patients have a lot to be thankful for this year. They took a risk accepting organs that weren't quite perfect.

That risk, though, could help others in the future.

Not long ago, Irma Hendrick couldn't take her grandson for a walk. She was on dialysis for kidney failure and was sapped of energy.

A new clinical trial could mean more patients get organ transplants. (WBZ-TV)

"It reminds me of 'Night of the Living Dead,' believe it or not," Hendrick said. "You see how the zombies are walking towards you? That's exactly what I looked like coming out of dialysis."

Irma was on the transplant list but there were no guarantees she would receive a new kidney, so last summer she volunteered to receive one infected with hepatitis C as part of a clinical trial.

Transplant centers typically ban these organs because hepatitis C can cause liver failure if left untreated. But Irma was given pills to fight the virus after she received the new kidney.

"We're giving them the opportunity to have a transplant but we're also treating them for a new infection they didn't have. So that's the trade-off," Dr. Peter Reese, of the University of Pennsylvania, said.

kidney transplant
Irma Hendrick, left, received a kidney infected with hepatitis C as part of the new trial. (WBZ-TV)

Every year in the U.S., only about 17 percent of people waiting for kidneys receive them. This approach could allow many more patients to get transplants.

"There's a whole pool of kidneys that we just kept looking over. It was like we had blinders to it," Reese said.

Irma's blood currently shows no evidence of hepatitis C and she's regained a lot of her energy.

"My kidneys were functioning i think at 8 percent," Hendrick said. "So it was worth the risk for me. If they didn't have this study, I wouldn't be where I am today. So i'm extremely grateful."


There are more organs available these days due to a rise in drug overdose deaths but a significant percentage of them are infected with hepatitis C, so if the clinical trials are promising, this treatment protocol could potentially allow more of those organs to be used.

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