Slidell man trades one disease for another to save his life

Faced with organ failure, he made a risky choice to save his life. But it came with a cost.
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 10:54 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Slidell man faced with the toughest decision of his life-- to live or die.

John and Michelle Webb are typical newlyweds: Inseparable, in love, going on family trips, and planning new adventures.

The two tied the knot in November 2019, but everything wasn’t perfect. Michelle’s vows to John took on greater meaning.

“We got married—what—three months before my transplant and they had to add color to me,” said John. “I woke up one morning and I was yellow as a school bus.”

The happy couple didn’t get to enjoy a honeymoon phase. John suffered from acute liver failure after years of managing primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)-- an autoimmune liver disease-- and it was getting worse.

John desperately needed a liver transplant.

On February 27, 2020, an Ochsner doctor called saying they’ve found a liver for John. This liver, while healthy, was infected with Hepatitis C.

“I was heartbroken at first truthfully. It’s tough to hear when you’re.. you feel so bad and you want nothing more than to feel better and then they tell you ‘we’ve got a liver but there’s some problems with it.’ You know, it almost felt like was I trading one problem for another?” said John.

His liver was dying, but the Hep-C liver could still save his life.

“Do I want to live or do I want to die?”

John and Michelle had many questions. His doctor then had to convince John to take the high-risk organ.

“The success rate is so good. The side effect profile is so low and honestly, the chances of dying while waiting for a liver transplant are significantly higher than any risks to treating Hepatitis-C post-transplant, so it’s really a risk-benefit discussion with the patient,” said Dr. Nigel Girgrah, liver transplantation at Ochsner Health.

Dr. Girgrah said the patient begins 12 weeks of Hep-C treatments a couple of months post-transplant, followed by regular blood checks for the virus.

Ochsner said it’s one of the first transplant programs to take Hepatitis-C livers, and Dr. Girgrah said it has been extremely successful because of new anti-viral medications.

Dr. Girgrah said those medications work 98 to 100 percent of the time. In fact, he said it’s a gamechanger when it comes to getting livers transplanted quicker.

John accepted the liver and received the transplant. This Hep-C liver gave him a second chance at life.

“To be able to offer him this liver and see, you know, what a great turnaround it has been in his life, that’s been really gratifying,” said Dr. Girgrah.

John said his latest blood tests came back 100 percent clear. Hepatitis C was cured.

He said he wrote a letter to his donor’s family, hoping to learn more about his hero.

“We’ve met once and we have plans to meet again in the future and uh, it’s like I have a whole other family. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and it’s amazing,” he said. “I’m honored to have a part of their loved one to carry forward.”

Today, John and Michelle have reason to celebrate. They’re heading into two years of marriage, and he’s one year post-transplant.

“Afterwards, it was like night and day. I mean not even immediately, but every day was just coming back you know,” said Michelle.

“It’s allowed me to have my life back. It’s.. I can’t describe the feeling… um, it’s amazing,” said John. “It’s good to be alive.”

According to doctors at Ochsner Health, cases of Hepatitis-C are on the rise largely in part due to the opioid epidemic.

Today, John said he feels amazing after a health journey that has tested the fabric of his being.

He said it was worth every bit of suffering. Now, he’s living life to the fullest with no regrets.

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