Organ Transplants Responsible for Patient Deaths

November 12, 2008 03:30 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Two organ transplant patients in Indiana died after developing cancer that originated with their organ donor.

Organ Transplant Deaths

Two families in Indiana are suing the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization for giving their loved ones organs that were cancerous. Both patients, who received organs from the same donor, died after their transplants.

“The question is how could this happen, obviously, and the answer lies in what was actually done in the testing and evaluation to qualify this donor to be an acceptable organ donor,” Frederick Hovde, an attorney for one of the patient’s families, explained to The Indianapolis Star.

However, the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization says proper screening was performed on the donor organs. And experts say it’s not always easy to detect a disease that could be in its very early stages.

With more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting for organ transplants, Dr. Michael Nalesnik, vice chairman of the disease transmission advisory committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing, told The Indianapolis Star that doctors have to work quickly to ensure a donor organ is safe to use.
Earlier this year, PetSmart was sued after three people died from organ transplants. The organ donor had purchased a pet hamster that was infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) from a PetSmart store in Rhode Island.

Nancy Magee, whose husband died after receiving a liver transplant from the donor, sued PetSmart for negligence. Magee claims the store should warn prospective hamster owners that the animals can carry the virus, and that it may be fatal to people with compromised immune systems.

According to The Indianapolis Star, more than 28,000 organ transplants occur annually. Dr. Nalesnik said disease transmission from donor to recipient happens in less than 1 percent of transplant cases.

Background: Transplant recipients develop HIV, hepatitis in Chicago

In 2007, four transplant recipients in Chicago contracted the HIV virus and hepatitis C from an organ donor, according to The New York Times. The cases marked the first time two viruses were reported to be spread at the same time by organ donation. Even though the donor was tested for these conditions, the infection was apparently too recent for the viruses to be detected using common testing methods.

Despite the dangers presented by an organ transplant, patients on the transplant waiting list may have larger problems. “It still remains that the biggest risk for patients on the transplant list is being on the list and not receiving an organ,” Dr. Robert Brown, director of the liver transplant program at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia, explained. “There is always a drive toward better testing, but if it leads to more organ wastage, we’ll probably hurt more people than we help.”

Reference: Organ transplant resources


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