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Help For Hepatitis C Patients

If hepatitis C was destroying your liver and your only hope was a transplant, would you take a liver from someone else with the virus?

On the surface, giving a person who is already sick an organ from another sick person doesn't seem to add up. But, to organ donor groups and many doctors it makes perfect sense, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman.

Until recently, many patients were desperate for a transplant. Now, agencies are collecting organ donations from hepatitis C patients before they can be tossed away.

Transplant recipient Murray Schwartz recently received a new liver from a patient infected with hepatitis C. Since Murray also has the virus, he says it didn't bother him.

"When they called me to say they had an organ for me, I didn't even ask them if it was going to be a hepatitis C organ or a regular organ," he says. "I was in what they call the end-stage of liver disease. My eyes were yellow, my skin was yellow and I just didn't want to do anything."

Organ groups say the livers are from otherwise healthy people who have been exposed to the virus. A new study released recently at the International Liver Transplantation Society confirms that those dying from hepatitis C are not affected by additional exposure. The expected lifespan of transplant recipients is just as long as those with healthy livers.

"Nobody wants a second-rate liver, and these aren't," says transplant surgeon, Dr. Charles Miller, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "It's explained to them that this is a pool of organs that they have kind of a special claim to because we're not going to use them in anybody else."

Doctors say Murray's chance of survival is as good as it would be with an unexposed liver. No transplant will cure his hepatitis and eventually he may need another one.

"If you have the opportunity, I would tell anybody to take the shot because you could wait until you die to get an organ," Murray says.

With the need for organs on the rise, the option can be a lifesaver.

"Ten years ago, we had about 10,000 people waiting for organs and today we have over 64,000, and the number of donors really hasn't increased significantly over that period of time," says Brian Broznick of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education.