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The French study involved 26 alcoholics with severe hepatitis who were not getting better with drug treatment. They were carefully selected: Among other things, all had support from family or friends. The patients pledged to quit drinking and received transplants. They were compared with a group of similar liver disease patients who weren't offered transplants.
Not surprisingly, those who got transplants did better: 77 percent were still alive six months later, compared with 23 percent of those who didn't get new livers.
Also, far fewer fell off the wagon than expected: Only three of the transplant patients started drinking again two to three years later, a rate much lower than the estimated 30 percent relapse rate in general among alcoholic patients who meet the six-month sobriety rule.
Dr. Christopher Hughes, director of liver transplantation at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said he is worried the pool of potential organ donors could shrink if the public believes organs are going to active drinkers.
"I think this will be very controversial. I don't think you'll find a lot of support for adopting this," Hughes said.
New England Journal: http://www.nejm.org/
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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