Device May Rehab Organs for Future Transplant (Feature Story)

Meet a New York man in desperate need of a liver who volunteered to use an innovative new technology which may – one day – make more organs suitable for life-saving transplants. Cristiano Quintini, M.D., comments.

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CLEVELAND – Twenty years ago, New York corrections officer Robert Mellis, 68, had no idea that stopping a prison fight would result in the fight of his life.

“I got slashed…stabbed in prison” said Mellis. “Through the prison job I found out I had hepatitis C.” 

Over the years, the hepatitis C virus ravaged his body, Mellis developed end stage liver disease and in 2015, doctors found a cancerous liver tumor.

“A liver transplant is the only cure for the type of cancer I had,” said Mellis.

After ten days on the transplant waiting list – a liver was found and Mellis agreed to be part of a high tech trial at Cleveland Clinic – testing a new homegrown device designed to give surgeons a sneak peak at an organ’s function before it’s even transplanted.

“Think of this device as a mini portable ICU for the organ where we have the ability to very effectively change the conditions of the organ, monitor the organ and intervene if something is not right,” said Cristiano Quintini, M.D., a transplant surgeon at Cleveland Clinic.

Rather than putting an organ on ice, the machine pumps oxygen-rich blood, nutrients and medications through the liver to keep it working and warm.

“You start seeing the organ functioning, producing bile it’s actually quite amazing,” said Dr. Quintini.

The device is part of a study to determine if the technology safe to use. Once that phase complete, doctors will examine whether it may allow them to ‘treat’ less desirable organs and in some cases, rescue them, making them suitable for transplant.

“There’s a huge opportunity to decrease and potentially even eliminate the mortality on the waiting list by using this technology,” said Dr. Quintini.

As for Mellis, he is recovering nicely after his transplant and has a new outlook on life.

“I never thought about being grateful until this happened to me, you know, thank God, thank God,” said Mellis.

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