Hepatitis C Kidney Transplant a Blessing for Lee MannsAs a chaplain for 15 years at Virtua Marlton Hospital, Lee Manns learned a lot about medicine. So after years on dialysis, when the opportunity came to receive a kidney transplant from a donor who had hepatitis C, she didn’t hesitate.
“They said pack your suitcase and I want you here by 1 p.m., and it was already quarter of 12,” said Lee. “I had been ready to run out the front door for 4 ½ years. I wanted a new kidney, and I would deal with whatever came with it.”
Lee was one of the first people at Virtua to receive a kidney transplant from a hepatitis C-positive donor. Thanks to medications now offered by the transplant program at Virtua Advanced Transplant & Organ Health, more people have access to organs that otherwise were considered off-limits. These medications, called direct-acting antivirals, target hepatitis C and keep it from spreading.
“There is a very limited pool of available deceased donor organs. On average, patients may wait five or six years,” said Virtua transplant nephrologist Anita Mehrotra, MD. “But now, being able to accept donor organs with hepatitis C, patients may reduce their time on the waiting list by six months up to several years, depending on their blood type.”
Care for the CommunityA professional harpsicord player with multiple degrees in music, Lee brought joy to audiences across the region. When an injury made it too painful to play, she attended Palmer Seminary to receive a master of divinity degree and Andersonville Seminary for a doctorate in Christian counseling. This allowed her to focus on providing spiritual care to hospital patients, families, and staff.
Lee believes the lithium she received to treat depression following the birth of her second child in the 1970s damaged her kidneys.
“By the time I found out, I was already in the danger zone,” she said. “I fought it for eight years, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired all the time and didn’t feel good. It was a general malaise. I would rather sit and read. I wasn’t hungry, but I was gaining weight.”
Lee visited a specialist in Philadelphia, and for four years did overnight dialysis treatments at home. In May 2020, a friend suggested she also list for a transplant at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.
Two months later on July 14, she received the call from Virtua that her new kidney was waiting.
“I had reached a point that it was never going to happen,” Lee, 75, of Cherry Hill, said of receiving the transplant. “It’s made a huge difference.”
Preventing InfectionLee received a seven-day course of the antiviral medication, once before the transplant and for six days after. Eighty percent of recipients never develop hepatitis C. Those who do receive an additional 12 weeks of the drug to destroy the virus, said Dr. Mehrotra.
“Organs are allocated based on age, with younger recipients matched with younger donors,” said Dr. Mehrotra. “Because Mrs. Manns was able to accept a hepatitis C-positive organ, she was able to receive a kidney from a younger donor and has excellent kidney function.”
Hepatitis C organ transplants are becoming more common across the country.
“The optimal transplant comes from someone who is alive and healthy. If someone has a living donor, they can be transplanted right away. For others, it can be years, and they may not make it,” said Dr. Mehrotra. “For anyone willing to consider it, hepatitis C transplants significantly increase their chances of getting a kidney.”
Lee continues to take antirejection medications and regularly sees the transplant team. Retired from chaplaincy, she spends time with her husband of 51 years, Ernest, serving as a deaconess in the United Methodist Church, creating string art, and growing orchids.
“I feel great. I have energy and the ability to concentrate,” she said. “The transplant is a real blessing.”
Choose Virtua for Your TransplantVirtua Advanced Transplant & Organ Health is South Jersey’s only center for kidney, pancreas, and liver transplantation. We provide complete care for every stage of your condition, aligning our services to meet your unique needs. Learn more about our transplant program here, or call 888-847-8823.
Updated May 19, 2022