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More Organs Available For Transplant Because Of Opioid Epidemic

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- New findings out this week show more organs are available for transplant in the U.S. because of the opioid epidemic.

This is proving true in Western Pennsylvania.

While the epidemic is certainly both tragic and problematic, something many may not realize is how those organ donors who have passed are saving other people's lives.

At 25, Marty Brown, of Erie, is living what is his second chance at life.

"It's such a tragic situation in passing away suddenly. I know it's given the family peace and has helped them through their grieving process," said Brown.

Born with a congenital heart disease, that progressively worsened, Brown spent his early twenties on a waiting list for a heart. When he got the call it was for a "high risk" heart from a young man who died from an overdose. "They asked me if I was willing to accept the heart because any offer they give you, you can decline it. Now, the downfall with declining it is you may not make it to the next offer," said Brown.

Dr. Fernanda Silveira, Director of Clinical Operations for Transplant Infectious Diseases at UPMC, said, "I think it's important to understand that these are very good organs that a lot of times are being discarded because of misconceptions."

According to Dr. Silveira, when transplanting "increased risk" organs, there is a very small risk of disease transmission.

"It's very promising. There have been a few pilot trials done that showed that if transmission of hepatitis c happens in that setting, then we can treat the recipient and cure that recipient of the Hepatitis C and they're not going to develop chronic Hepatitis C.

Allegheny County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams has witnessed how dramatically overdose have deaths increased with the addition of fentanyl. "Yes, there is an increasing percentage of otherwise completely healthy, starting at 20, 30 year olds that the only other reason we may be likely to get their organs is moto vehicle accidents," said Dr. Williams.

If those individuals choose to be organ donors, someone like Marty Brown may have a second chance. "It's just a whole new source of good, viable, organs that wasn't available to us 10 years ago or even 5 years ago," said Dr. Williams.

Since Marty received his new heart in the fall of 2016 at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, he met his fiance, went back to work, and bought a new house. "One of the greatest things that have helped me through this process is being able to be in contact with my donor's sister. She tells me all the time that I'm her hero and that's when I reply that her brother is my hero," said Brown.

Brown and his fiance are inviting his donor's family to their wedding in October.

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