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Man Fights HIV Positive Organ Donation Ban to Save Partner

8:20 PM, Mar 22, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- He wants to save his partner's life, but a law is preventing it.

Will Sherbert is one of more than 17,000 patients waiting to receive a liver in the United States.

Although a potential match is with him every step of the way, Sherbert has to wait for someone else to be his hero.

"He's my best friend. I can't lose him," Charles Tripp said through tears. "I just can't."

Each week, Tripp counts out hundreds of pills that keep his partner of six years alive.

It's not HIV that is killing Sherbert. It's cirrhosis of the liver, caused by hepatitis B he lived with for years without knowing.

Sherbert and Tripp are from California. They're currently in a hotel at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville waiting for a liver transplant.

Sherbert has had two calls so far; one just last Saturday. Neither was the one.

As they walked slowly outside their hotel, a weak and exhausted Sherbert clutched Tripp's arm.

"A lot of times I have to hang on to his arm for stability," Sherbert explained.

"We used to be a little shy, like 'What would somebody say? Two guys holding arms,'" Tripp said. "But we don't care anymore."

The arm Sherbert clutches has the same blood type and is also HIV positive. A potential donor match.

"I want to save him," Tripp said. "I want to give him part of my liver."

But a federal law from the 1980's prevents HIV positive organ donation.

"When that law came out, it was perfectly appropriate because we were right in the heart of the AIDS scare in this country. But today, it's completely outdated," Dorry Segev, M.D., a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins told us over the phone. "I cannot see any reason why somebody would want to keep this ban."

We looked, but could not find any organizations for keeping the ban.

The HIV Medicine Association told us they support a change in federal law to allow for clinical research to see if transplants from HIV-infected deceased (not living) donors to living HIV patients are safe and effective.

Tripp agrees that is the first step in the potential change, and hopes it leads to more.

Kimberly Crump, HIVMA policy officer, told First Coast News, "Without a change in the law, even this research cannot take place."

Tripp wants everyone to have the chance to save the people they love through organ donation, including those who are HIV positive.

He wants the chance to save his partner.

"At first I was really upset that I wasn't the one," Tripp said. "I wanted part of my body to take care of his body."

The emotion goes back to when they met, in an HIV online support group right after Tripp was diagnosed with what he saw as a death sentence.

"He's the one that kept me going," Tripp said of Sherbert. "He's the one that kept me pushing forward."

Sherbert is the reason Tripp didn't give up on life.

"He finally said, 'You've got to try, you've got to try,'" Tripp said. "And so now, when he needs my help... I've got to try."

HIVMA says if people want to help, they can sign up to be an organ donor.

Sherbert believes deciding factors of good transplant candidates should be up to doctors and the transplant board, not a congressional law.

"That's what I'm hoping will change," Sherbert said, "That somebody, someday soon, will be able to do that."

Sherbert and Tripp ask that those who want to push for a change contact their state lawmakers to ask for an appeal.

First Coast News

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