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Pig's liver used as blood filter to save patient

Two months before a controversial pig liver transplant was performed on a dying California woman, doctors saved the life of another woman by filtering her blood through a pig liver outside her body.

The liver was attached to 25-year-old Robin Okon for four hours Aug. 3 at Johns Hopkins Hospital after she fell into a coma while waiting for a transplant.

"It saved my life, I'm glad that they were able to do that," said Ms. Okon, who later received a human liver and is recovering.

"I didn't think I would survive if a human liver hadn't been found," she said Wednesday in a telephone interview from her Hyattsville home. "One of my doctors told me a couple of days before I left the hospital that a pig liver had been used."

The procedure is accomplished by placing two catheters into veins in the leg. Blood is pumped from one catheter to an oxygenator and through the pig's liver before returning to the body.

The entire pig's liver is used and the organ is supported by the oxygen pumped into the blood and the nutrients in the blood itself.

The procedure was used to cleanse patients' blood many times in the late 1960s and early 1970s before the advent of liver transplants, said Dr. Andrew Klein, director of Hopkins' liver transplant program.

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