A 52-year-old Ugandan has become the first recorded case of a person with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, getting a liver transplant in India.
Pesco Kutesa, who is also infected with hepatitis B, a blood-borne infection that leads to liver failure, got a healthy new liver after a 12-hour transplantation surgery at Delhi’s Apollo Hospitals.
Done to treat end-stage liver disease and acute liver failure, liver transplantation involves implanting a section of the donor’s liver — usually not more than 25 per cent — in place of the recipient’s diseased one. About 30 liver transplants are done in India each year.
“Though it was a high-risk surgery because the patient was on anti-retroviral therapy to treat HIV infection, we decided to go ahead and give him a new lease of life,” said Dr Subhash Gupta, senior consultant surgeon at Apollo, who performed the surgery on January 13.
Organ transplant is risky in HIV-positive patients as their immunity is low and they are more prone to infections. Blood loss has to be controlled and anti-retroviral therapy dose lowered before surgery.
Kutesa is a serving colonel in the Ugandan army and describes himself as “a soldier”. He has also authored a book called Uganda’s revolution (1979-1986), How I saw it (2005).
Last April, he was brought in a coma to Apollo. Diagnosed with liver failure, he was kept in the ICU for three months and told that only a transplant could save his life.
Calling him a revolutionary, Dr Gupta said it is the revolutionary spirit that has kept Kutesa going after testing HIV positive 15 years ago. “I never think about my HIV status, I just took it like any other disease. Even when they were wheeling me into the operation theatre, I was pretty normal,” he said.
The colonel’s only concern was that his wife, who donated a part of her liver, should not get infected with HIV. His wife, who did not wish to be identified, is equally concerned. “If my liver can prolong the life of my husband even by two years, I would feel it’s worth it,” she said.
“We have been sharing almost everything for the past 25 years, and now we even share a liver,” Kutesa added with a grin.