Transplants: Saving People with Not-so-Perfect Donor Hearts


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – More than 3,500 people are waiting for heart transplants right now. Many of them will wait longer than six months and some will die while on the list. But now, doctors are using not-so-perfect donor hearts to give people a second chance at living.

It was just another day of hiking when Jacob May had the wind knocked out of him.

“It took me twice as long to get back to the truck. I was completely short of breath,” he tells Ivanhoe.

May had beaten leukemia more than a decade ago and was told the chemo could one day cause heart problems. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, the 46-year-old needed a heart transplant.

May says, “They told me it could be years wait time, it could be a couple of weeks.”

University of Utah Health transplant cardiologist, Dr. Josef Stehlik, explains, “There’s a big gap between the number of patients that are awaiting organs and then the number of organs available every year for transplantation.”

(Read Full Interview)

But innovative approaches in heart transplantation gave May more options. Doctors at the University of Utah are using hearts that would not have been acceptable a few years ago for transplantation now — including hearts that are infected with hepatitis C.

“There have been new medications developed that are curative for hepatitis C, so, antiviral medications that will eliminate the virus,” Dr. Stehlik further explains.

Even if the donor has not received treatment for Hep C before death, Dr. Stehlik says they can transplant the organ.

Dr. Stehlik adds, “While the virus will be transmitted to the recipient, we’ll provide treatment for hepatitis C and eliminate the virus fully within the first weeks after heart or other solid organ transplantation.”

May waited 111 days before he was matched with a heart infected with hepatitis C.

“We figured the risk was worth taking to give me a new lease because there was no telling how long the old one was going to hang out for me,” May emphasizes.

And so far, May has tested negative for Hep C and will continue to be tested for it. But he says it’s a risk worth taking.

“I’ve got a total of six kids altogether, so, it’s going to give me a chance to spend time with my family,” he adds.

Dr. Stehlik says using hearts infected with hepatitis C for transplants can add an additional 200 transplants in the U.S. only. Although hepatitis C is the first infected hearts being used for transplantation, Dr. Stehlik believes that in the future that possibly HIV infected hearts will also be viable for transplantation.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor. 

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REPORT:       MB #5208

BACKGROUND: Congestive heart failure, or heart failure, is a long-term condition that happens when your heart can’t pump blood well enough to give your body a normal supply. Blood and fluids then collect in your lungs and legs over time. Medications and other treatments can help manage symptoms like swelling, but congestive heart failure is life-limiting for many. More than 6 million people in the United States have congestive heart failure and it’s the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.


DIAGNOSING: Congestive heart failure symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue when you’re active, swelling in your ankles, legs, and abdomen, weight gain, need to urine when resting at night, a dry, hacking cough, bloating, nausea and/or loss of appetite. Sometimes, you may have mild symptoms of congestive heart failure or none at all and symptoms can come and go. This doesn’t mean you don’t have heart failure anymore and unfortunately, congestive heart failure usually gets worse over time. Congestive heart failure can be diagnosed by having a physical exam with your provider looking for signs of congestive heart failure and diseases that may have made your heart muscle weak or stiff.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Heart transplants from donors with hepatitis C may be a safe option for those awaiting new hearts and a major way to curb the nationwide organ shortage. In a study from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, patients who received heart transplants from donors who had hepatitis C saw similar outcomes a year after surgery as those whose donors did not have hepatitis C. Researchers compared one-year survival, organ rejection, dialysis and incidence of stroke and found similar survival rates regardless of whether patients received a heart from a donor with or without hepatitis C – 90% compared to 91%, respectively.



Suzanne Winchester

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Josef Stehlik, Transplant cardiologist

Read the entire Q&A