UC San Diego Doctors Perform Rare Combination Heart and Liver Transplant

What Happened?

In late 2016, 58-year old Sonny Taitano had a double transplant, receiving a new heart and a new liver. This is a rare transplant experience for anyone, as the risks can be incredibly high for medical complications and risks. A heart and liver transplant that happens simultaneously is considered to be an incredibly rare procedure, which accounts for fewer than 1% of all organ transplant surgeries in the United States. In addition, the patient’s previous liver had a hepatitis C diagnosis, so Taitano had to live in the hospital for several months after his transplant surgery. While in the hospital, his body was able to heal from the transplants while he received hepatitis C treatment medication. This process meant that Taitano remained hospitalized for several weeks while his doctors regularly monitored how his body was healing from each of his two transplants. He was also closely watched to make sure that his hepatitis C medication treatment did not create problems for his body while it got used to its new organs, as well as making sure the medication did not interfere with the effectiveness of the medication required of a transplant recipient to prevent the body from rejecting the new organs.

Why Is It So Important?

Previously, a person with a hepatitis C diagnosis might have been considered a poor candidate for one transplant, let alone two. This is because the hepatitis virus can cause organ damage and the medication treatment to rid the body of the hepatitis C has a risk of side effects. These concerns add in with the existing concerns and risks associated with an organ transplant. When there is a double organ transplant, a person not only has the risks associated with each organ’s transplant experience, there are additional risks because the body undergoes a second round of significant trauma along with running the double the risks of an organ being rejected by the body.

Now that a double organ transplant of the heart and liver has occurred, and since the hospital team has also managed to handle the additional hepatitis C infection, additional research can occur. This means that hospitals are able to study the notes, tapes, and recovery process of this specific patient and it means that the process can begin to become more commonplace throughout the country and through the world.

What Does This Mean?

This means that patients whose bodies were previously seen as incompatible with organ transplant due to the need of multiple organs or the combination of the need of organ(s) and hepatitis C treatment may be given new hope. Professionals whose focus is on organ transplant or on hepatitis C may also begin to come together to create new methods and new research studies and trials to begin to create protocols so that current and future patients are able to be considered for multiple organ transplants, even if they have a positive hepatitis C test.

What Happens Next?

Over time, these procedures can become the new records that researchers can use as they develop new protocols to minimize risks, to lower recovery time, or even to begin to further the process so that future patients with even more medical needs can be considered candidates for organ transplants and hepatitis C treatments.

In addition, when there are news stories about successful organ transplants, there is a chance that more people will choose to become organ donors, both at their time of death and those who choose to sign up to be living donors. A living donor is someone who donates a portion of an organ or another part of their body to those in need, without having to die or become permanently injured in order to do so. When this happens, it means that there are more organ transplants able to take place and it increases the odds for those needing transplants that they will be matched with an appropriate organ. This brings hope to those who are currently on the transplant waiting list and it can create a snowball effect by continuing to keep organ donation in the news, which brings in new donors, and the cycle can repeat.

I Was Told I Need Multiple Organs, Does This Mean I’ll Get My Transplants?

This is double transplant situation made the news because it is so rare. While this particular patient got approved for the transplants and while these specific doctors took the risks, this is not a sign that this process will be immediately open to all patients in similar medical positions. However, if you are in need of an organ transplant or a multi-organ transplant and have previously been told that you are unable to receive them, you can always request a second opinion from your current doctor or you can schedule an appointment with another surgical specialist to discuss whether there are options you may not already know about. Although it is easy for a person to see themselves and their medical needs in a news story, it is important to keep in mind that every medical case is unique and every patient is unique. Only your doctors and medical team can determine whether this or any other medical news experience can apply to your personal medical story.1-4

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