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Organ transplants and disclosure of medical risks: a tragic case

Transplant operations are a marvel of medical science. Many people have heard of cases where someone donates a kidney to a friend or loved one. Indeed, in New Mexico and across the nation, kidney donation stands as a recognized symbol of self-giving service.

Other types of transplants, however, are not as well known. Transplanting part of a liver, for example, is not a widely known procedure.

And, as we will discuss in this post, there is not always sufficient communication between doctors and donors about the possible risks of liver transplants. When something goes wrong with such a sensitive procedure, the consequences can be catastrophic.

In a recent case in Massachusetts, a 56-year-old man agreed to give part of his liver to his brother-in-law, who was suffering from liver cancer.

During surgery, things went terribly wrong. The man who was giving part of his liver experienced severe complications with blood coagulation and an irregular heartbeat – and then died.

The Boston Globe recently recounted the man’s wife’s agonizing experience of irreparable loss. The huge loss was her husband of 35 years. But she also lost her trust in the doctors involved in the operation.

These doctors had told her that only two donors had died in the U.S. in the 20-some years since the donation of livers by living people had begun. Given that more than 4,000 operations of that type were done during that time, the odds did not seem overly daunting.

Later, however, she found out about the deaths of other donors in foreign countries. And she came to question whether medical errors were made in focusing so much on the recipient of the liver to the detriment of the donor.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Donor's death shatters family, stuns surgeons," Liz Kowalczyk, Feb. 2, 2014

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