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Transplant of Liver Offers Alcoholics a Hope for Life

February 05, 1989|United Press International

CHICAGO — Transplants may offer alcoholics with damaged livers hope for a long, productive and alcohol-free life, doctors said in a new study that defended the practice as worthwhile and not a "waste of organs."

The study, led by transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas Starzl, showed that 68% of patients with alcohol-damaged livers who received transplants at a busy transplant center in the last seven years are still alive.

More than 73% of the 41 patients survived more than a year after getting a new liver. Starzl, a surgeon at the University Health Center of Pittsburgh, attempted the world's first liver transplant in 1963 and was successful in 1967.

Survivors Shun Alcohol

The team of 10 researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. that all but two of the patients who survived for more than six months stopped abusing alcohol after their operations.

"We're not taking Skid Row bums here and wasting organs on them," Starzl said in a telephone interview. "We're talking about people who have made a commitment to restore their lives and have done so in the vast majority of cases. It is a tremendously worthwhile endeavor."

Tom Collins, one of Starzl's patients, appeared with him at a Pittsburgh news conference. "I've had a second chance at life," Collins said. "I consider myself a blessed person."

Collins said he abused drugs from age 13 to 43, but had been sober for more than four years when his liver began to fail. "I was shocked when I found out I needed a liver," he said. "I needed a liver to live. I came here and asked for a transplant. They did that for me."

Collins received his new liver in November, 1987. He is a locksmith who also counsels people in Presbyterian-University Hospital's transplant program in Pittsburgh. He said in his counseling he draws on his experience and gives other sobered alcoholics "a little bit of my story."

The 41 alcoholics treated at Presbyterian and described in Starzl's study represented 6.2% of the 666 adults who received liver transplants at the facility between 1980 and June, 1987.

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