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Texas Lawsuit Alleges Organ Transplant Malpractice

Organ transplant surgeon

A Waco, Texas woman has filed a lawsuit against a doctor and his medical practice alleging organ transplant malpractice. Two years ago, the plaintiff donated a kidney to her grandmother. Her grandmother died from terminal cancer 11 months later.

According to the complaint, doctors failed to properly diagnose the grandmother’s terminal cancer. It alleges that the plaintiff’s organ donation was therefore unnecessary. The plaintiff’s grandmother was admitted to a hospital in January of 2012 with headaches and high blood pressure. In February 2012, the defendants performed the kidney transplant. In the summer of 2012, the plaintiff’s grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting the plasma cells in the blood.

The plaintiff states in her complaint that a CAT scan from her grandmother’s January 2012 hospital admission indicated that she had cancer so she should never have received the kidney transplant. She died the following January, less than a year after the transplant.

Usual screening would not have prevented TX organ transplant error

Malpractice does occur in organ transplants but the Waco, Texas lawsuit is an unusual case – it alleges that the decedent should not have received any transplant. More commonly in organ transplant malpractice cases, the plaintiffs allege that there was some problem with the donor organ or medical treatment that the donor or recipient received during or after the surgery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), organ and tissue donations should be screened before use. Screening involves evaluation of the medical and behavioral histories of the donor to determine the risk of a donor having a disease that could be transmitted to the recipient.

Regulations enacted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network require that living potential organ donors be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis, cytomegalovirus, Epstein Barr Virus, and in certain cases, tuberculosis. But even though there are handful of conditions screened, only HIV+ donor organs are prohibited in transplants. Because there is a shortage of donor organs, it is an accepted medical practice to use organs that test positive for hepatitis.

Of course, the diseases screened for are not the only conditions that can infect an organ recipient. In a rare case in 2013, a Maryland patient died from rabies after receiving an infected kidney transplant. The victim was one of four recipients of infected organs from the same Florida donor. The other three recipients received rabies vaccines after the death. Because rabies was not a suspected cause in the donor’s death, the organs were not screened for the strain of rabies which is extremely in humans.

Organ screening protects recipient, not donor

Transplant organ screening is done to protect recipients from infected organs. But the Texas organ transplant lawsuit is a reminder of the need to look out for the welfare of organ donors as well. While less common, the type of error that the Waco woman alleges is not unheard of.

For example, earlier this year a Florida woman filed a malpractice lawsuit against a hospital that performed the organ transplant surgery that killed her husband. He underwent surgery to remove 60% of his liver to donate to his brother-in-law who was diagnosed with liver cancer. His widow alleges that the hospital both overlooked abnormalities on her husband’s medical screenings that indicated he may not do well in surgery and failed to disclose that the recipient had two large tumors in his liver, making it likely his cancer would return after the transplant.