Larry Gets a Liver-But Who's Next? Author-Activist Larry Kramer's High-Profile Liver Transplant Could Help Other HIV Patients Win Access to Expanded Treatment. (Health)

By Dahir, Mubarak | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), February 5, 2002 | Go to article overview

Larry Gets a Liver-But Who's Next? Author-Activist Larry Kramer's High-Profile Liver Transplant Could Help Other HIV Patients Win Access to Expanded Treatment. (Health)


Dahir, Mubarak, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Despite an erroneous Associated Press headline declaring writer and activist Larry Kramer dead after a December 21 liver transplant, on January 2 his best friend and primary caregiver, Rodger McFarlane, was gathering Kramer's belongings from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in preparation for Kramer's discharge that day.

"I'm packing the bags, and the car is ready to go," McFarlane said. "Larry's cogent. He's been working on the computer, walking up stairs. And he's been complaining. Larry's back!"

Kramer is not the first person with HIV to receive an organ transplant. But he is the best-known, and his case has brought attention to the controversy surrounding HIV-positive patients fighting for the right to receive transplants.

The main reason people with HIV are denied organ transplants "is homophobia and AIDS-phobia in the medical community and insurance industry," said Jeff Getty, a California activist who in December 1995 underwent an unsuccessful experimental baboon bonemarrow transplant to combat his HIV. "There's still the belief that giving an HIV-positive person a transplant is a waste of a good organ."

Margaret Ragni, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh who helps HIV-positive patients win transplants, agreed that discrimination has been an overwhelming obstacle. But, like most other medical experts working in this area, she conceded, "we can't honestly say how safe it is for the patients."

There is a valid medical concern about giving people with compromised immune systems the immunosuppressive drags every transplant patient must take to reduce the chances their body will reject the new organ, said Michelle Roland, MD, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who in 1987 was a founding member of San Francisco's original ACT UP. "A lot of good things could happen as a result. But a lot of bad things could happen too."

So far, existing medical research is based on roughly 26 cases nationwide, said Peter Stock, a transplant surgeon at UCSF, where last year eight HIV-positive patients received kidney transplants and four received livers. …

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