IU health offering hepatitis C-positive kidneys to people on transplant list

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A transplant with an infected kidney is changing lives in the Hoosier state. Right now, IU Health is using hepatitis C-positive kidneys for non-infected patients and then curing them of the virus.

It's cutting down the wait time on the transplant list by years.

So far, the hospital has performed three of these transplants. The most recent one was earlier this month.

IU Health said roughly 500 kidneys are thrown away every year in this country because they were hepatitis C-positive. Now, their center and a few others feel they have value.

Douglas Hays was on the transplant list for two years. He was battling kidney failure. He was on dialysis for a year waiting for a healthy organ.

"I was on stage 3 for several years and then it went to stage 4 in half the time and then all of a sudden it was stage 5," he said.

Typically, patients in kidney failure need a transplant soon or they will likely pass away from complications. Dr. Asif Sharfuddin suggested Hays consider taking a a hepatitis C-positive kidney, which usually comes from drug users.

Hays said the procedure was a no-brainer.

"If we can use every single organ, the wait time becomes shorter for everybody," Sharfuddin said.

Sharfuddin said the cure rate for hepatitis C is close to 100 percent. Patients take medication after the transplant. Hays became hepatitis C-negatice after just a few days.

"500 kidneys does not sound like a big number but those are 500 lives that are saved right away," said Sharfuddin.

Hays is now off dialysis. He only had to wait in line for a new kidney three weeks after making his decision.

"I got that accomplished and now I can get on with life," said Hays.

The hospital hopes to do one of the transplants each month. Sharfuddin believed not many hospitals have gone forward with the idea because there is no guarantee of how the medication's cost will be covered.

Medications for hepatitis C are fairly expensive. They can cost up to $30,000 if insurance does not cover it.

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