Hepatitis C is a tragic byproduct of Tennessee’s opioid crisis.
In the past, organ donations from IV drug users were not possible because of possible Hepatitis C transmission.
But times have changed, and medicine has changed.
Dr. Matthew Danter is a Vanderbilt surgeon who specializes in heart transplants and is on the leading edge of this transplant wave.
“The spike in available organs is not because there’s a change or more people necessarily overdosing, the shift is now we have the ability to use these organs because we have a medication to treat the virus,” said Dr. Danter.
According to Dr. Danter, in the recent past, organ donations from IV drug users was not a viable option. The risk of the new recipient getting Hepatitis C was just too high.
“Historically, it had been a no go till we got these medications,” said Dr. Danter.
New medicines and procedures being used at Vanderbilt Medical Center have changed the game. Since September of 2016, surgeons like Dr. Danter have been transplanting organs that may have come from IV drug users who may have tested positive for Hepatitis C.
“The reason really is the advent of the medications to treat and effectively cure most forms of Hepatitis C, a virus, that is blood-borne and would have been transmittable between the donor and recipient previously,” said Dr. Danter.
In fact, hospital officials say since September of 2016, surgeons at Vanderbilt Medical Center have transplanted: 65 hearts, 13 kidneys, 16 livers, and one lung.
All were transplanted from Hepatitis positive donors into patients who were not infected.
“The reality is they will have an extensive discussion of the risks and benefits of being willing to take on higher risk donors and we do consider Hepatitis C donors as higher risk donors, but the benefit is there are markedly reduced wait times for these organs.”