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April 1, 2000
The Philadelphia Daily News
Fired up over new liver - Ex-firefighter singing for joy after operation
by Julie Knipe Brown - Daily News Staff Writer

Less than 24 hours after his liver transplant, Kevin Myers was singing in his hospital bed.

He was talking about summer vacation, dreaming about driving his old Ford Thunderbird and joking with his 20-year-old son.

It's hard to believe that just hours before he was near death.

"He'll be a new man," said Dr. Kim Olthoff, the surgeon who performed Myers' transplant operation Thursday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Myers, a 51-year-old retired city firefighter, was diagnosed in November with hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver, causing cirrhosis, cancer and often death.

He is among 140 city firefighters who have tested positive for the disease.

Myers' condition yesterday was guarded in the intensive care unit. But he was able to sing a couple of bars yesterday morning when the nurses asked him how tall he is.

"He just started singing '6-foot-2, eyes of blue,'" said his wife, Shirley. "He just keeps saying he can't believe it."

Olthoff said the operation went smoothly and doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

"He's breathing on his own, which is a good sign," said Olthoff. "He's over the first hump."

The next hump will be monitoring him to ensure he doesn't develop any complications.

Eighty-six percent of liver transplant operations succeed, Olthoff said.

His prognosis is good, though there's no guarantee that his new liver will not be affected by his disease.

There is no vaccine or cure for hepatitis C so the disease may attack his new liver.

His liver specialist, Dr. Gillian Zeldin, said there's every reason to hope the disease will stay in check and that Myers will live out the rest of his life.

About one-third of patients infected with hepatitis C eventually end up with liver disease.

Zeldin said it's "extremely likely" that Myers contracted the disease on the job.

Like most city firefighters, Myers spent a good deal of his time working as an emergency medical technician.

She is among a growing number of health experts who suspect the firefighters were infected in the line of duty through contact with blood from infected patients.

"I've looked at some of these firefighters' hands. They have cuts and scrapes all over them. It's not hard to realize how possible it is for them to have been exposed. They've crawled through car wrecks and some of them have used their bare hands," she said.

Myers is fortunate to receive the new liver, his doctors said, not only because he was near death, but also because his condition had deteriorated so badly that he was on the verge of being too weak to get a transplant at all.

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© 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

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