SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors at the University of Utah have combined forces to provide transplants for patients while at the same time treating organ-destroying diseases in first-of-their-kind procedures that bring the promise of extended life for patients.
Dressed in a plaid short-sleeved shirt, slacks and sneakers, Andres Galvan, 61, was ready to go home Thursday afternoon, four days after a kidney transplant. But his story is different, and he joined doctors at the hospital to tell it and serve as an example of hope for others.
"I'm really happy. Thank you God," he said through a translator.
Galvan has hepatitis C and was the first patient at the University of Utah Hospital, and possibly in Utah, to receive a kidney from a deceased donor who also had the disease and to receive new treatment to fight it. After 100 days of recovery, he will return to the clinic to meet with a hepatologist to begin medication for hepatitis C.
Because Galvan was able to receive a donation from a patient with the disease, his wait was shortened. The disease attacks the liver and kidneys, however, which means his recovery would have been short-lived after the transplant. But a new medication has changed that.
Past hepatitis C medications have been harsh on the body and kidneys and only had about a 25 percent success rate, according to Jeffrey Campsen, surgical director of kidney transplantation at the University of Utah Hospital.
Patients who take Sovaldi, a drug on the market less than a year, experience fewer side effects, and the medication has more than a 90 percent success rate. It has not yet been approved for those with kidney failure, which is why Galvan will need to wait until further in recovery from the transplant.
"There's not a huge amount of patients on the renal transplant list with hepatitis C, but those patients can get transplanted quickly, safely and then cured of their hepatitis," Campsen said.
Now that Galvan has the new kidney and treatment, his life expectancy will return to that of other men his age.
"We're trying to get organs for our patients to where they can then be cured of whatever organ disease they have. It's just another opportunity that's successful to allow a patient to basically receive a life-saving organ and then move forward with their life," Campsen said.
Campsen, who performed Galvan's surgery said the combination of a kidney transplant and liver and hepatitis C treatment is something that would have been unimaginable two to three years ago.
"The new thing about it, and this is the first time we've been able to do it, is to take all three of those actions and put them together to successfully treat his entire body of organ failure. So as opposed to just treating his kidney or just treating his liver or just treating his infections, we were (able) to come at it at the University of Utah as a multidisciplinary team and basically treat the entire patient," Campsen said.
"So six months ago he's in renal failure with active hepatitis C virus, and six months from now he'll be cured of his renal failure and cured of his hepatitis C."
Galvan did not know the combined treatment and transplant were available until last year. He hopes others can see that even if they have a disease, they can still receive life-saving treatments.
"He just wants people to know that you can get a kidney transplant with hepatitis C. It's possible now," said Marissa Villasenor, who was translating for him.
Those who are on the transplant waiting list can be on hold for years, Campsen said. They often receive dialysis treatments, which help for the short-term but reduce life expectancy over time.
"While dialysis is a life-saving procedure, once you start it, it shortens your life. So if you're able to get a kidney transplant in a shorter amount of time then you're actually going to live longer," he said.
The transplant marked the end of the two-and-a-half years of exhausting dialysis treatment three days a week, lasting two to four hours at a time, for Galvan. He said he plans to live life to the fullest, eat healthy foods and take his follow-up medication.
"It's possible. Get your transplant. Make sure you take your medicines, too, go and do all your blood work, don't slack off on that. Do what you have to do. Do what the doctor tells you to do," he said through Villasenor.