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Virtua Center for Organ Transplantation Gives Browns Mills Man Second Chance at Life During Pandemic

A native of Liberia, Francis Weah came to the United States in June 2013 in search of a better life. Deeply religious and known for his sense of humor, the 53-year-old Browns Mills, Burlington County resident cared for patients at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.

Earlier this year, Weah began to experience yellowing of his eyes (jaundice), dark urine, and swelling of the feet and abdomen. Weah’s doctor sent him to a Mercer County hospital, where he was diagnosed with hepatitis B, a liver infection that can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver failure, and cancer.

Weah spent two weeks in the hospital, including five days in a coma.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Told he needed a new liver, Weah was referred to a hospital in Philadelphia. He was then transferred to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital on March 16, 2020.

More than 60 million Africans have hepatitis B, with many people not receiving needed care, according to the World Health Organization. It can repeatedly flare and go into remission, silently damaging the liver over time, said Hisham ElGenaidi, MD, Virtua Medical Director of Hepatology.

While many surgeries were placed on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, Virtua kept its transplant program operating, allowing patients the opportunity to receive a new kidney, pancreas, or liver. Virtua performed 22 transplants from the time COVID-19 took hold in the area in March 2020 through mid-July 2020.

The Virtua team helped Weah obtain insurance, and after evaluation, he was placed on the national transplant wait list on March 24. With severe chronic liver disease from his hepatitis B and a maximum Model of End Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score of 40, Weah was a high priority for a transplant.

“The patient was critically ill from his liver disease, with a predicted three-month mortality greater than 70 percent,” said John Radomski, MD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Liver Transplant Surgical Director.

Thanks to the severity of his illness, Weah didn’t have to wait long, receiving his new liver on March 27. Weah said he never feared that he would contract COVID in the hospital.

“My mind never was to be afraid,” he said. “I was about to get a liver.”

Recovering at home, Weah stays inside to reduce his risk of getting coronavirus.

“I feel so good now. I have no pain, I’m eating, I’m getting to be myself,” he said. “I was just blessed. All is wonderful.”

To learn more about organ transplantation at Virtua, visit www.virtua.org/OrganTransplant.

Updated July 30, 2020

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