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Liver Transplants & Hepatitis C

March 27, 2006, 5:18 PM by Katie Janssen

Tens of thousands of people are infected with Hepatitis C each year, and most of them won't even show any signs or symptoms of the disease. In the most severe cases, Hepatitis C can cause the liver to fail, and the only way to survive is with a transplant.

Enjoying the ocean's creatures is a passion Johnny Aguire shares with his family.

"We do some collecting of anemonies, sea urchins and shells," Aguire said.

But these days Aguire's only contact with the ocean is through his aquarium. Hepatitis C caused his liver to fail and that kept him out of the water for months.

"The doctors diagnosed me with end stage liver disease," Aguire said.

It takes 10 to 20 years for Hepatitis C to destroy the liver. It happens when the virus infects liver cells. The body's immune system then attacks these cells and forms scar tissue. Eventually the scar tissue prevents the liver from functioning. It can no longer metabolize food or clear toxins from the blood. Some times medication can help but it didn't work for Aguire.

"And so the treatment is to remove the old damaged cirrhotic liver and replace it with a new liver from a donor," said Dr. David Mulligan, Mayo Clinic Transplant Surgeon.

Dr. Mulligan says people who get liver transplants usually do very well. Most of them continue to thrive for years after surgery. But the problem is there are approximately 18,000 patients in this country on the transplant waiting list and only 6000 donors.

"Unfortunately, we just don't have enough organs to meet the demand," Dr. Mulligan said.

Aguire was very lucky. He got a new liver after three days on the list. That new liver will help Aguire enjoy the ocean with his family once again.

For more information on Hepatitis C or on becoming an organ donor, follow these links:

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