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Woman's Death after Lung Transplant Raises Questions about "Marginal" Organ Donors

A cystic fibrosis patient died after receiving lungs from a smoker.

The death of a young woman in the UK—who was the recipient of a lung transplant thanks to a donor who was a smoker—has her family wondering why they were not told that the donor was a smoker, and the medical community defending the ways in which organ donors are selected or rejected.

The 28 year-old woman, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, underwent a double lung transplant at Wythenshawe Hospital last February in the UK after her condition deteriorated. She died the following July from pneumonia, after which the family applied to receive her medical history; that’s when they found out that the lung donor had been a smoker.

The woman’s father says that she would have refused the transplant had she known the donor’s history. He adds that, while he understands the need for what surgeons call marginal organs, “the issue is that the use of these organs should be told to the patients themselves by the clinicians.”

Marginal organs are not normally used if healthier ones are available, but the extreme shortage of better, available donor organs has led surgeons to take them from injection drug users, smokers, alcoholics, and elderly people. A spokeswoman from the University Hospital of South Manchester (UHSM) NHS Trust, which runs Wythenshawe Hospital, said that the hospital followed national guidelines with respect to the young woman’s transplant, adding that the organs “were examined and deemed safe for transplant.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Health (DOH), speaking in regard to the family’s issue of not being told about the condition of the organs, said that “guidance is available that sets out the risks and benefits of when an organ should be used… Ultimately this is a decision for the clinician, the patient and their family. “Any decision should always be made after full discussion with the family so they understand all aspects of the prepared treatment."