On July 9, 2012, a woman in Illinois filed a medical malpractice claim against her transplant surgeon claiming that he transplanted into her a pancreas that had cancer. While the reason why the woman needed a pancreas transplant was not divulged, the life-saving surgery is typically performed on very sick patients who have been harmed by the ravages of diabetes.
The now 39-year-old woman had the pancreas transplant performed in 2008 at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Her medical malpractice lawsuit claims that there was medical negligence that resulted in a cancerous pancreas being transplanted into her.
While the risk of developing cancer is a known risk associated with organ transplants, the screening of donors and donor organs result in the risk being very small (a study of more than 108,000 organ transplants that were performed over a seven-year period found that only 21 recipients developed cancer from their transplanted organs). Furthermore, the benefits to organ recipients who are typically very sick with life-threatening conditions far outweigh the minuscule risk of developing cancer as a result of receiving a transplanted organ.
While the medical records of organ donors are thoroughly reviewed and the families of organ donors are often thoroughly questioned regarding family histories, and tests for communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis are routinely performed, there is typically a short period of time between when an organ donor unexpectedly dies and the donor organs are harvested and implanted (donor organs must be removed and implanted into recipients quickly, for medical reasons). The short period of opportunity may inhibit the more thorough testing for cancer and other abnormalities (testing for cancer is often inconclusive).
While we have not had the opportunity to review the woman’s medical malpractice lawsuit to determine the factual basis for her allegations that her transplant surgeon acted carelessly and negligently in implanting an allegedly cancerous pancreas into her, we can understand how devastating it must be for the woman and her family to be rejoicing and relieved when they were first told that a suitable donor pancreas had become available for the woman but then learning sometime after the transplantation that the pancreas she now had in her body was diseased with cancer and her condition was now perilous.
Perhaps the woman will be able to establish through medical expert testimony that her transplant surgeon and/or others associated with her pancreas transplant acted in a careless and negligent manner and had they not acted in such a manner, the allegedly cancerous condition of the donor pancreas would have been discovered before it was transplanted into the woman’s body.
Perhaps the woman will also be able to establish that had she not received the allegedly cancerous pancreas, a healthy compatible pancreas would have become available to her and that she would have timely received the healthy pancreas that would have prolonged her life and measureably increased the quality of her life. If so, then the woman’s situation is even more tragic and sad.
There are no guarantees in medicine and bad results from medical procedures may occur in the absence of medical negligence. However, if a medical provider acts in a negligent manner and the negligence is a cause of a patient’s injuries or losses, then the negligent medical provider should be held accountable for his/her substandard and wrongful acts or omissions that caused harm to his/her patient — since it was in the medical provider’s sole control to act in accordance with the acceptable standard of care under the circumstances, fairness and justice require that the negligent medical provider “make whole” the victim of the medical negligence.
If you or a family member may have suffered harm as a result of medical malpractice, the assistance of a local medical malpractice attorney may be essential in determining if you can bring a claim for compensation against the negligent medical provider(s).
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