Make your home page

Health Spotlight: Man undergoes innovative heart transplant

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — More than 3,500 people are waiting for a heart transplant, but unfortunately, many will wait for longer than six months, and some will die while on the list.

While the wait list grows, doctors are using not-so-perfect hearts to allow people on that list a second chance at life.

Jacob May, a transplant recipient, remembers a day of hiking when all of a sudden, it felt like the wind was knocked out of him. “It took me twice as long to get back to the truck, I was completely short of breath,” May said.

May, who previously won a battle against leukemia, was told that his past rounds of chemotherapy might affect his heart and cause problems later in life, and, at age 46, May was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

May had originally been told that the wait time could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, but an innovative approach to heart transplantation gave May more options.

Researchers at the University of Utah have started using hearts that would not have been deemed acceptable a few years ago for transplantation now.

Dr. Joseph Stehlik, cardiologist and a professor of medicine at the University of Utah, says that a large gap between the number of patients and the number of organs available led to this new approach.

May waited 111 days for his transplant, and the heart involved was infected with hepatitis C.

“There have been new medications developed that are curative for hepatitis C, so antiviral medications will eliminate the virus. While the virus will be transmitted to the recipient, we’ll provide treatment and eliminate the virus fully within the first weeks after other solid organ transplantation,” Stehlik said.

May receives treatment for hepatitis C, and has tested negative for the virus.

While May says it was risky, it was a risk worth taking. He said that it was “worth taking to give me a new lease, because there was no telling how long the old one was gonna hang out for me.”

Stehlik says using hearts infected with hepatitis C for transplants can add an additional 200 transplants to the United States only, and believes that in the future, possibly HIV-infected hearts will be viable for transplantation.