Life on the Line: How Medical Malpractice Harms Organ Transplant Patients

When Claire Wineland, a young activist, underwent a double lung transplant last month, her family and supporters hoped it would be the start of a new chapter for the 21-year-old, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. But though her surgery was a success, Claire suffered a stroke shortly afterwards. She passed away a week after her transplant.

Throughout her life, Claire made YouTube videos about living with cystic fibrosis, and often talked honestly about death. She also encouraged others with cystic fibrosis and other life-threatening illnesses to live their lives to the fullest.

One important issue that Claire raised awareness for, in both life and death, was organ transplants. From lungs and hearts to even eyes, blood stem cells, or entire faces, an average of 95 organs and tissues are transplanted every day. But despite this seemingly high number, there are still over 114,000 people on the waiting list for organ transplants. 20 people die every day while awaiting a life-saving transplant.

Who Needs Organ Transplants?

Most people who need an organ transplant are chronically or terminally ill. Some health conditions that commonly lead to the need for a transplant include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Polycystic kidney disorder
  • Kidney failure
  • Diabetes

In most cases, the organ transplant process, which can help a critically ill person, begins when someone else dies. While some organs, like kidneys, can come from a living donor, the vast majority of organs come from deceased people.

The Organ Donation and Transplant Process

When someone is awaiting a transplant, they are entered into a vast database. In it, they can be matched with donated organs based on factors like location, medical needs, or current health. For example, if an organ donor dies in a car accident in the Tampa Bay area, an ideal match for them would be someone who also lives in Tampa Bay , and was in currently healthy enough to undergo the transplant. Since organs rapidly deteriorate after death, location and timing is of the essence when it comes to transplants.

Once someone receives word that they have an organ donor, the process moves very quickly. Generally, a transplant takes anywhere from four to twelve hours, while the patient is under anesthesia and closely monitored. In the case of a lung transplant, for example, a machine  helps the patient breathe during the surgery, as their lungs will be stopped during the procedure. One or both of their damaged lungs are removed. Then the new lung, including blood vessels and airway, is stitched inside.

Medical Malpractice During Organ Transplant

An organ transplant is a complex surgery, and it does not come without risks. Many of the risks that come with transplants are due to the nature of the situation. Patients may already be in a weakened state due to their illness, and might be more susceptible to complications. Other times, however, a complication might arise because of a medical professional’s negligence. For example, a surgeon or other professional could cause harm to a transplant patient if they:

  • Use unsanitary equipment
  • Accidentally or negligently use a damaged, diseased, or incompatible organ for the transplant
  • Operate on the wrong body part
  • Leave surgical equipment inside the patient
  • Misuse anesthesia during the procedure

For example, if a patient’s body rejects the organ, despite the surgeon’s best attempts, it would not likely be a case of medical malpractice. On the other hand, if a post-transplant patient developed an infection as a result of a doctor’s improper use of equipment, then the doctor might be liable.

Organ transplants always risky, but for people who cannot survive without a new heart, lung, liver, or other organ, it is often a risk they are willing to take. When someone makes the decision to undergo a transplant, they are counting on their doctors and surgeons to provide the utmost care. Their life literally depends on it, which is why medical malpractice during an organ transplant can be so devastating.

Learning More

Organ donation is not always an easy topic, both for organ donors and the people who are in need of a donation. But as Claire Wineland discussed in one of her final videos, just one person can mean a world of difference for a seriously ill person.

To learn more about organ donations and to find out if you’re eligible to be an organ donor, check out this blog.

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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