NEW YORK — About 6,000 of the approximately 17,000 Americans in need of a liver transplant each year actually get the surgery they need. Many die because they cannot wait any longer for a suitable donor.
But an experimental machine is giving some patients, like Darius Reszuta, a chance to wait.
Three months ago, Reszuta, 33, slipped into a coma when his liver started failing with no warning.
Reszuta desperately needed a transplant, but the donor liver was in another state and would not arrive in time to save his life.
Dr. Lewis Teperman, a surgeon at New York University Medical Center, used an experimental machine called an extracorporeal liver assist device – one of six in the United States – that can temporarily take over liver function.
Reszuta was hooked to the device, and for eight hours, his blood traveled through the filtration system. It is unique in that its filters contain human liver cells that cleanse toxins from the body and produce vital proteins.
"We were able to keep him alive in the operating room on this machine for the organ," Teperman said. "You know, (his body) was open, waiting for the organ."
The transplant was a success, and today, Reszuta is doing fine.
"I feel lucky (that) I was able to be on the machine," he said. "It saved my life."
The liver machine has been used on about 70 Americans.
Dr. Temperman said, if future testing is successful and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the machine, it could save thousands of lives every year.