World AIDS Day, doctors support HIV organ transplants

December first is World AIDS Day and according to a group of doctors, an estimated 1,000 lives could be saved every year if HIV patients were able to donate their organs to other HIV patients.

Now those doctors are calling on Congress to amend the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. They say it's outdated and needs to be changed immediately.

Thomas Lane recalls his darkest hour 15 years ago-- struggling with HIV and advanced kidney disease. His partner, who does not have HIV, donated his kidney to him in 2000. But nine years later, his body rejected the kidney. Lane’s brother donated a kidney this time.

“I'm feeling really good,” said Lane. “I never expected to be here.”

HIV patients are living longer because of more effective drug regimens. But for many, along with that, comes disease-related kidney and liver failure. It's tough to get a transplant since the waiting list is 100,000 deep.

Doctors say amending the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 could save the lives of 1,000 HIV patients every year. The law makes it illegal to transplant any organ infected with HIV. But Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon, Dr. Dorry Segev says those HIV-infected organs should be transplanted into HIV patients dying from organ failure.

“Every year we throw away hundreds of organs that would have been perfectly useable other than the donor was infected with HIV,” explained Dr. Segev.

So far, HIV-positive patients like Lane who have received healthy organs have done remarkably well post-transplant. But Lane says he'd gratefully accept an HIV-infected organ in the future if needed, rather than wait years for a third healthy kidney that might never come.

It's not yet known what could happen to HIV-positive patients when organs with different strains of HIV are transplanted into their bodies. But Dr. Segev says doctors are optimistic.

The bill calling for this change is being drafted and could go before Congress next year.

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