Medical Malpractice and Transplants

Duke University Hospital Performs a Transplant with Mismatched Organs causing 17-year old Jesica Santillion’s Death

Jesica Santillian was born with a fatal condition known as Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. The condition causes the ventricles of the heart to be too rigid to expand making it difficult to get enough blood flow. On February 7, 2003, 17-year old Santiallian underwent a heart and lung transplant at the prestigious Duke University hospital. While this is a standard medical procedure, nothing went as planned. The doctors had failed to confirm the organ donor’s blood type to ensure a match for Jesica before the operation took place. It also seemed as though Santiallian’s surgeons began the transplant too early by removing her organs before the replacements had even arrived at the hospital. This gave no time to catch the fact that the new organs were type-A while Santiallian was a type-O patient.

After the transplant, Jesica went into shock and her body shut down due to severe brain damage caused by her body rejecting the new organs. The antibodies in her blood were working to eradicate the mismatched organs. On February 13, a second transplant occurred in hopes to save her life. Three separate doctors checked the new organs to confirm they were a match for Jesica. After the second surgery, Santiallian seemed to be stable; she was taken off of life support but remained in critical condition as her kidney and liver had suffered damage from the life support machine.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) began to inspect the incident more closely. Representatives of the hospital stated the doctors had wrongly assumed the blood type of the organ donor matched Santiallian instead of checking for themselves. The hospital then released a statement that they would require further compatibility checks in all transplants to avoid any repeats of this situation. Duke University Hospital’s chief executive officer, William Fulkerson, stated, “This has been a difficult and heart-wrenching time for many people. At Duke, it has resulted in a tense reexamination of internal controls in transplantation.”

Less than a day after her second transplant, doctors noticed declining brain function. Unfortunately, Jesica was unable to survive due to the severity of the initial mistake and was declared dead on February 22, 2003. Following Santiallian’s death, Fulkerson released a statement on behalf of the hospital and staff saying, “All of us at Duke have agonized over the problems in Jesica’s treatment and we have taken actions to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again. This has been a very tragic time and Jesica has had an enormous impact on all of us here. We are doing everything humanly possible to provide the best care for all our patients, and we are committed to upholding the highest medical standards as we move forward.”

If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, speak with a medical malpractice lawyer in Cleveland, OH. Call a law firm today.

Thanks to Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co. for their insight into medical malpractice and transplants.